Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pagans in the Media

Ok...on one of the member lists I'm subscribed to - for one of the largest pagan organizations in the US  - a call came in from a media firm looking for "interesting" pagans and witches for a possible reality show. 

I about spit out my tea. My opinion follows:

I guess TV is getting tired of pawn shops, auction hunters, bachelors/bachelorettes, housemates, housewives, honey boo boos, kardashians, child-exploitation pageants, women who view their wombs as clown cars, repo companies and similar reality shows, and are looking for a new genre to exploit and make money off of. After all, they have the Long Island Medium, right? Why not witches?

Much as I am all for equality and maintain hope that someday our beliefs and ideologies will be respected by mainstream society, I fear that such a project will be nothing more than a scripted freak show. These television producers don't want "interesting" pagans - they want the freaks who are completely removed from what pagans really are. Because let's face it, most of us are good, ethical people, with jobs, who pay our taxes and are pretty boring, and that doesn't sell advertising blocks. Most pagans I know are "interesting" - and by that, I mean, intelligent, insightful, spiritual, moral, thoughtful and kind people who operate their lives with integrity. That's not what these TV people want...they want people who will provide a shock value at whatever cost. And unfortunately, there are a lot pagans out there who are more than happy to oblige. Especially if there’s a few bucks in it for them.

Over the past few years, I've met people who have participated in "reality" shows of many different types...and my conclusion is that "reality" shows are nothing of the sort. They are heavily scripted, use multiple takes to get it "right", and they make changes to the location and activities to make it exciting for viewers. Trust me, no television show wants to see me, albeit very pagan, at my regular nightly routine: usually watching a documentary on the Science Channel, crocheting gifts while my geriatric cat sleeps on my lap. They want to see someone concocting potions, performing hexes, being rowdy and lascivious, breaking all societal rules, and all this with amazing pyrotechnics and other high tech effects every night before retiring. In my 30+ years of being a pagan, I haven't met anyone fitting that description. And so, I truly hope that this project fizzles before it even starts.

Remember about 15 years ago or so, when witches were the topic-du-jour for movies? Practical Magic, The Craft and other knockoffs really made a splash. Some witches thought the media exposure would help our cause - but let me tell you what it really did, at least in Southern CA and in Minnesota, where I was very active with the pagan community at that time. What these movies did was attract a bunch of guys who were hoping to score with a Nicole Kidman lookalike or young girls who wanted to magically change the color of their hair or some such nonsense. Supposedly, pagan women looked like Sandra Bullock, and pagan men looked like Tom Cruise as Lestat. They thought the drivel they watched in the movies was real and then were completely disappointed when they found out that we were just normal folks.

That disappointment then turned into cynicism and then complete derision.

Tons of people would attend public pagan events not to learn and to worship, but to spy on us "weirdos". They wanted to see if pagans were really as whorish as they were led to believe (to be an easy score). Do pagans really run around nekkid in public and doink everything that didn't put up a struggle?  Or maybe pagans are really just full of crap because they didn’t summon a corporeal Baphomet in the middle of Ridley Park on a Saturday afternoon.

What these gawkers found were a group of people who were simply honoring the Gods and the Earth through song and dance and ritual, and used community to network multiple Traditions that would normally never intersect. We talked about books, compared spiritual experiences, shared information, discovered mutual friends, and discussed life in general. How horrifically boring. One year, we had over 500 people show up for a Beltane ritual - I would say fully 2/3 of those people were there only due to the "freak factor". It saddens me to this day.

Ultimately, putting Paganism in the media ended up cheapening what it is we do. What we ALL do, whether you are a part of the media depiction or not. People WANT to believe that we do all those freaky stereotypical things, because "freakier than thou" sells - not boring. They think our homes are replicas of Medieval Times. The mainstream WANTS to think we dress like Renaissance Faire participants all the time, and run around hexing people indiscriminately; we all have warty green noses and always wear pointy hats; we bathe in virgins blood (wait...wasn't that Snow White, or something...?); we all have black cat familiars; we have a broom that comes when called; we are constantly casting spells; and we have a cauldron in our living rooms. Ok, that last part might be right in some cases. Whatever. You guys know what I mean.

Regular folk don't care that we do the dishes, have jobs & mortgages, get pissed off at our kids for being knuckleheads, and essentially do the same stuff that everyone else does. Heck, the only difference between me & my neighbor is that I have a few more gods than they do. The worst part of this is knowing that television shows will cast only the biggest wingnuts in our midst - those who are the most polarized and goofy, and those who LEAST represent the majority of good, loving, honest pagans out there. Still....whoever those television people choose - mainstream is going to assume we are ALL like those wingnuts, and they will make a snap judgement, for good or ill, based on that perception. It's not going to help us, or make us more acceptable - in fact, it may do the opposite.

I'd rather be one of the "hidden children" than to expose my belief system as a sideshow. What will it do to people who already live precariously - in communities that are already outright prejudiced against them? What will it do for Seekers who are looking for other ways to connect to Divinity only to be given the perception that Pagans are nothing more than out-of-time hippies who have blurred the line between real life and a D&D game? What will it do to those who are really trying to walk the Path of the Gods - the Rough Hewn Path? What will it do to the future of our belief system, for without Priests and Priestesses of Consequence, what we have is a shell of a religion, a pantomime of something that was sacrificed to the highest rating?

I think that putting paganism (or what they want to portray as paganism) out there may harm us more than help. I fail to see how this can do any good to Paganism as a whole. Your opinion may be different, and I hope for all of our sakes that I am wrong in this estimation.

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) Flags, Flax & Fodder,
(¸.•´ (¸.•`Kaerwyn Silverwood, HPS
Coven DragonVeil
1734 Tradition
Maryland, USA

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The First Harvest–Lughnassadh

Horned One, Lover, Son
Leaper in the Corn
Deep in the Mother
Die and be Reborn
- Popular Pagan Chant

In the pagan cycle of Sabbats, we are fortunate enough to have not just one, but three harvest celebrations. Lughnassadh, otherwise known as Lammas, is the first of these harvests. It is a fire festival, which means that it is one of the 4 Sabbats that is not either a Solstice or Equinox. It is tied to agricultural and seasonal changes and commonly celebrated around July 31 or August 1 although it can also be celebrated as late as August 6th. Like many pagan holidays of celebration, this Sabbat is about honoring the bounty of the earth, but understanding that the days are becoming shorter and nights are longer.

This sabbat is often attributed to Lugh Lamfada, who in Celtic / Irish mythology created this celebration to honor his foster mother Tailtiu who died of exhaustion to ensure that all the lands of Ireland were cleared for planting. It is also a time when handfastings were popular - a handfasting is a "trial marriage" or contract lasting usually a year and a day. If at the end of that time the couple feels they wish to make their union more permanent, they can do so. It is often said that the practice of handfasting led to our custom of engagements before marriage today. Lammas is the time to honor animals and their contribution to our harvest, not just as farm animals, but as companions, omens, and communications from the Universe. It is the time for crafts and handmade items, especially wheat weaving, and was the time when our ancestors would begin plaiting / weaving blankets and clothing for the winter time. It was common to have jousting or other tournament type games as well to celebrate the sacrifice of the Corn God, and outdoor feasting and games were popular.

The word Lammas - (or Loaf-day) honors the first harvest of the wheat. The early Anglo-Saxon Christians would often bring a loaf of bread to their Church in honor of this day. In Stregheria – a branch of Italian witchcraft – they call this day Cornocopia. And to our Teutonic witches, this day is often referred to as Thingtide. This time of year is also associated with Odin and his discovery of the wisdom of the Runes, by which he hung upside down on the tree of Yggdrasil for 9 days and 9 nights in his own sacrifice for knowledge, which he promptly shared with his beloved children of the earth. It is at this time of year that many cultures from all corners of the globe honor the earth and its bounty; you will find similar stories of abundance and harvest in your own quests for knowledge.

There are many associations with Lughnassadh in neo-paganism today. Certainly, it is a time of celebration. For our agrarian forebears, it was the time for reunions and taking a break from field-work. We can see in our mundane society that July and August are popular months for reunions and family get-togethers! Lughnassadh is the time when the first fruits are ripening, and as a pagan practitioner, you can start to see some of the results of your labor over the past year. In fact, some people refer to Lammas as the 'Blueberry' (or 'Blackberry' if you live on the west coast!) celebration, because that is when the blueberries / blackberries are sweet and perfect.

However, one of the most important components of Lughnassadh is the sacrifice of the God of the Grain in order to ensure the rest of the harvest is healthy and full. Lugh is beseeched so that he protects our still-ripening fields and keeps our upcoming harvests hale. He sacrifices his blood on the fields to nourish and protect the land. He returns to the bosom of the Great Mother to be reborn as your next harvest at Mabon. As the wheat is cut down, so is the Lord of the Dance. But it is not an empty sacrifice, as the God gives his gift of life to his people – us – so that we might best survive the cold and dark times of winter.

One of the way Pagans celebrate this holiday is to make a bread man for sacrifice. It's incredibly easy to do, and a great pagan craft to do with your family, coven or friends. You will need bread dough - either home made, store bought frozen or (my favorite) refrigerated bread sticks you can buy near the biscuit area in your food store. You will also need food coloring and any other adornment you wish. Remember, although you will NOT be eating this bread-man, it must remain edible!

First, build your bread God. Honor the bread before you begin to work with it. Thank the Sun for bringing life, thank the wheat for its gifts, thank the water for hydrating the land. Then, on a greased cookie sheet, parcel out dough for the body, two legs, two arms, a head, antlers, various body parts...and any other embellishments you want to add on. Make sure all the parts of the body are about the same height so they will all cook evenly. While the bread dough is pliable, you can easily make any shapes you want. Remember that the bread will puff up as you bake it, so you will lose some detail and will need to leave a lot of room for your God to grow. You can then use food coloring for different areas of the body if you wish. Some people cover their Bread God with seeds or herbs of the season. Once your God is how you envision him, bake him until he's golden brown. When he's all done, you can add things like flowers or any other non-bakable (but edible...) items you wish to put on him. Bring him and a big empty bowl into your Lughnassadh circle.

During your ritual set aside a time to reflect upon the glorious sacrifice of Lugh to your own personal harvest. Ask him to protect your life from any harm and to bring abundance upon the fields of your Spirit. And then....tear him up into tiny pieces. You heard me correctly! Everyone in Circle can do this, and kids are especially enthusiastic about this part! Just shred the bread man until he is nothing more than a pile of tiny crumbs. Each crumb is a piece of the God to feed the land. When your Circle is done, take the destroyed bread man and give him back to the Earth. You can take him on your next hike and toss him to the birds and small creatures, or even share him with the creatures who inhabit the wilds of your backyards or local parks. Thank the animals who partake of your bread god for bringing Him back to the Mother.

Lammas is also a good time to draw on the abundance of the Earth and the harvest in your own life. It’s appropriate to do magick to bring in all kinds of physical and emotional bounty; many pagans who normally don’t do a lot of spellwork will take this time to do something towards these ends. Even a simple candle spell to bring in your own harvest will reap great rewards. Many covens make a whole day of it, complete with picnics, games, singing and dancing.

As a pagan practitioner, you can celebrate this time of year with something more than ritual; this can be done by yourself, with a group, or with your family. Honor the season by volunteering at your local animal shelter to honor the animals who make our lives richer. Use your hands and make something to give away to show your own generosity. This is a wonderful time to bake with your kids and with your friends and honor the Sun God’s gifts. It is a time of plenty, a time of singing and dancing. For adults, this is the perfect time to visit a local winery and sample the fruits of the vine, each a different flavor of the harvest.

In our modern world, we aren’t always aware of the cycles of the earth – food is plentiful at any grocery store, and very few of us are required to harvest food for our own meals. It is important that we remind ourselves that in spite of the many conveniences we have, it is ultimately the Earth who gives us the sustenance we require and Lughnassadh provides us the opportunity to show our gratitude for the sacrifice and abundance we receive.

I wish you all a glorious Lughnassadh and a bountiful harvest!

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) Flags, Flax & Fodder,
(¸.•´ (¸.•`Kaerwyn Silverwood, HPS
Coven DragonVeil
1734 Tradition, Maryland, USA

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ostara–it’s not just Bunnies & Eggs!

The Vernal or Spring Equinox, also called the Ostara sabbat, is celebrated by pagans all over the world. It is a Solar or Fire Festival which was adopted over the years by the Christian church as their feast day of their God’s resurrection and rebirth. In German, Ostern – which is derived from the Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon Goddess Ostara/Eostre - is the translation for Easter.

The Goddess Ostara was honored at the Spring Equinox as the goddess of fertility and renewal, as this is the time of year when the first buds are seen in the trees, and the flowers begin to open up after a long winter of hiding under the soil. Day and night are equal, and day will be in ascendency until the Solstice. Winter holds no more power here, and we can rejoice in the return of the light. Ostara’s name is seen in the German word for East – Ost – where the sun rises and is reborn every morning. She is the Lady of the Morning Sun, the Maiden who welcomes the Sun God to a new day.

So prevalent was the Goddess Ostara’s influence, many cultures believed that there was great healing power in water drawn the morning of Ostara. This was a common practice in Germanic cultures until the 1800’s and is still common in many folk magick traditions to this day. Some of the more popular practices today are lighting a fire first thing in the morning to welcome the goddess and to purify the household; this is a popular day for household “spring cleaning”, a time of renewal and rebirth for the home. Ritual cleaning included scrubbing floors in a clockwise fashion (also known as going “deosil” or “sunwise”), to mimic the movement of the sun. This is the time of year when seeds were planted and songs sung to Ostara to protect and nurture the seeds.

The modern celebration of Easter, even to this day, has kept some of the same fertility symbols as in ancient times. Rabbits and hares, sacred to Ostara, have always been a symbol of fecundity. This is most likely due to the fact that they have one of the shortest gestation periods in the animal kingdom. The saying goes that for every one rabbit you see, there are 50 more you can’t! Eggs are another popular Easter/Ostara symbol. In times of old, eggs were dyed in the Goddess’ honor to represent the life lying within a seemingly closed shell, just as the flowers and plants are at this time of year. In ancient Rome, eggs were a common offering to the Goddess of the Dawn, as the yolk represents the sun that She welcomes. It is even suggested that humans learned to weave baskets by watching birds weaving nests for their eggs, which is where we might have gotten the idea for Easter egg baskets!

As a modern Pagan, you can use the power of the Spring Equinox to enhance your own life. Think about what you wish to make fertile in your life. Do you want to write? To paint? To learn? What abundance are you looking for? Now is the time to make fertile the soil of your spirit so the Gods can plant the seeds of that abundance and you will grow strong and healthy plants. This is the time of year to really think about our own personal fertility, the renewal of the spirit and the bringing of the Spiritual Sun into our lives. This is a perfect time to work magick for new growth in your life, to kick start any new beginnings and awakenings you wish to initiate. It’s also a good time to do magick to bring love to your life.

One of the ways to mirror your spiritual garden and endeavors is to be similarly active in your real world. If the weather is kind, plant a little garden and dedicate it to the Maiden of the Spring. If the weather is not cooperative, you can always prepare a small plot of land, clearing it of debris and weeds in preparation for planting. Perhaps starting an indoor herb garden is more conducive for you. Spend a few minutes to meditate on the rising sun and ask the Lady to guide you to your own personal abundance and spiritual growth. Take a long walk in a local park and look for the new life emerging; show your gratitude to the Universe by sending loving energy to those around you.

There are several correspondences associated with Ostara. One of my favorite things to do is to make an Ostara Basket and dedicate it in the Lady’s honor. This is a fun activity you can do alone, with your magickal working group, or with your family (kids love to participate!).

In your Basket, you can include stones such as jasper, amethyst, aquamarine and bloodstone. Choose flowers and herbs like violets, jasmine, rose, sage, honeysuckle, iris, daffodils, crocuses and other similar spring flowers. Add a few jellybeans and some dyed / colored eggs. You can include pictures or figurines of rabbits, the moon, the rising sun, and other such symbols too. When you’ve filled your basket, offer it to the Maiden on the morning of the Equinox. Place it in the easternmost part of your home so it’s one of the first thing that the morning ray of light will find. Sing songs or say a chant to the Maiden of the Spring – you can make one up or use one of the many popular ones in pagan practice.

One of my favorites is by Ann Moura, authoress of the Green Witchcraft series, done with a candle (I have used a jasmine scented tea candle for this):

Saying Farewell to Wintry spirits
by Ann Moura

Farewell to wintry spirits and friends;
On morrow we greet the spirits of spring.
Our blessings to thee as your way you wend;
And merry we’ll meet next winter again.
Blow out candle and say: Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!

Ostara is a time to celebrate the coming of spring and the new growth of the year. All this new growth is important as it leads to our own harvests throughout the year!

Wishing you all a fertile and abundant Ostara. May the Lady bring us all the blessings of the Spring.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Easy Peasy Candle Spellwork

Spellwork is an important part of many pagans’ practice. For the new pagan, it can be a daunting challenge. What do I spell for, how do I do it? More importantly, how do I do it correctly and not make a big ol’ mess of it? There are tons of books and classes out there which can give you a good idea of what spellwork is. Sometimes spells require a lot of time and energy to make them work, but there are spells which don’t require a huge time/energy commitment.

Not all spellwork has to be difficult or time consuming. We pagans have lives of our own; obligations to work, family, and day-to-day responsibilities. Sometimes we don’t have the time or energy to spend on a long, drawn out ritual, and sometimes the situation simply doesn’t require that much effort. Sometimes you can’t be very open in your household and need to be circumspect in how you practice your Craft. Time is precious and it’s important that we spend it as efficiently and positively as we can. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that we’re not all able to devote hours upon hours towards each spell we want to accomplish.

For general everyday spells, I like to do my spellwork in manageable chunks, and I find the best way to do this is through simple candle magick. Certainly, you can alter this to use whatever medium you wish – herbs, crystals, etc. This simple magick is really good for things you want to accomplish over a long period of time. I like candles because you can imbue a candle with energies and use it a kind of energy holding container, dispersing it based on your needs and parameters.

The first thing to remember is that a spell begins the moment you begin to think about it. Spells have a lot to do with visualization and manifesting that energy in this mundane world. As you plan what you want and how to go about doing it, you are focusing your energy towards that goal – which is part of the spellwork.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you want to draw in prosperity / money or financial security. At the full moon, take a green or white candle and use visualization to fill it with all the things you want which mean financial abundance to you. Ask the Universe and the Gods to assist you in making this goal real. Light the candle and push that visualization to the astral plane. This will start activating the “as above, so below” tenet that is so important to magickal work. When you feel the visualized goal is planted on the astral, extinguish the candle.

Now the major work is done. The link from the candle in the physical world (“…so below”) is secured to the astral (“as above…”), and you are able to execute the visualization here in more manageable chunks. Every night, for five minutes before you go to sleep, light your candle and reinforce that visualization you put into this spell. The reason for doing this before you sleep is that you want the image and focus to be the last thing you think of before you sleep, so your subconscious mind can work on it while your conscious mind takes a rest.

If your spell is about a new job, picture yourself in that new job, happy and secure. If it is about purchasing a car, picture yourself driving this car. It’s not about believing that this will happen – but KNOWING that it will happen; casting spells is making manifest in this world that which you Will to happen.

When the whole candle is burned down, the spell is complete. Thank the Divine (in whatever form you choose to identify the Divine as) for their assistance. Then for the most important – and sometimes most difficult – part of any spell: Let. It. Go. Release it. Stop worrying about it, or wondering if it’s gonna happen. Remember that every time you think about your spell, or worry about it, you are putting energy into it…and therefore the spell is never over and never allowed to manifest. Just release it to the Universe and trust that it will manifest in your life.

This is also a good spell technique for things like self confidence, inner strength, changing habits or breaking bad habits, finding love and more. I have used it to banish something out of my life (you can banish debt or bad habits, or even people who are not healthy for you). If you choose to banish something, charge the appropriate candle on a new or dark moon, that is, the moon opposite the full. This is NOT a good technique for baneful magick because it requires you to keep reinforcing feelings & energies. If you repeatedly concentrate on a person who has wronged you, you will keep reliving and strengthening that wrong every night, and we don’t want that! Remember, what you focus on will happen. That is one of the foundations of magickal practice. So…if you’re going to reinforce something, reinforce something that will make your life better!

I like easy peasy spellwork because it reinforces that which you wish to happen over a long time, and allows you to perform spellwork without it being detrimental to your everyday life. I wish you luck with this technique and hope it serves you as much as it has me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Vehicle Blessing

Buying a vehicle – whether that be a car, truck, SUV, crossover, hybrid, bus, boat, scooter, spaceship, whatever – is a big purchase, second only to a home. It doesn’t matter if the car is used or new. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to call a vehicle a “car” in this article, lest someone think I’m leaving their precious Hummer out of the equation.

Ostensibly, a car is something intrinsic to your life  - which means it is pretty darned important. It’s used almost every day to transport us to our work, family functions, social events, to help us do our chores and more. It is part of our family in many ways.

Just about every pagan has heard of a house blessing ritual. The importance of this act is to protect one’s house and everything / everyone in it, to keep things safe and to make it special to those who will be residing in it.  A vehicle blessing is the same thing for your transportation device.

When many people buy a car, they do a lot to make it uniquely theirs. I’m as guilty of this as anyone! You cab buy accessories, make it smell nice, get the windows tinted, give it a name, and more. You can purchase insurance not only to be compliant with your local laws, but to ensure that you are protected legally and financially. You can maintain your car to make sure that it runs safely and reliably.

But how do you make your car yours on a spiritual level?

In my coven and Tradition, we have a ritual for blessing our cars. It has turned into a beautiful experience as it gives protection and beauty not only to the vehicle, but to those who are inside it. It also celebrates our covenmate’s purchase and makes the new addition more special.

Here’s how we do our ritual, but of course, you may alter what I detail here to suit your own needs. Please note, dear readers, that this ritual isn’t limited to new cars – this can be done for your existing vehicles, or at any time you like, and can be adapted for many other circumstances!

I would do this ritual either on a full moon or a waxing moon. A waxing moon is a moon that is getting larger in the sky. The reason for this particular timing is to draw in protection and abundance and work with the moon’s energies.

Let the Universe know why you are doing this ritual, also known as a Statement of Intent, and begin your work.

First, cast circle starting in the North for Earth. Ask the Elementals / Gods / Spirit of Earth to help you draw in extra stability, strength and safety – three things which are paramount when choosing qualities you want for your vehicle. As you welcome the elements and elementals into your circle, ask them to bring their specific gifts.  For example, you can ask Air to blow away all traffic and to make sure you don’t get lost (that’s a big one for me); ask Fire to give you determination and safe movement; and ask Water to keep you peaceful and comfortable (and pretty – gotta arrive in style!).

Welcome in any appropriate Gods and Goddesses you wish. I usually make sure that no matter who I bring in, I like to invite Hermes (or his counterpart Mercury for my Roman friends) as a protector of travelers. As always, if you choose to invite the Divine, do your research first and make sure you really really want to be on their radar. Trickster Gods and Goddesses can provide a great deal of fun and spontaneity, but you probably won’t be laughing when they get you lost in the boondocks for their own entertainment!

Once you have assembled everyone – human & spiritual being alike – it’s time to light the beacon and make a mojo bag of goodness. You can make or purchase a bag, preferably in white or in green, to hold your items. Decorate the bag any way you want – the more ways you can make it unique, the more you tie the bag to your purpose. Bring a white candle that you’ve dressed and anointed with protection oils. It doesn’t have to be a big ol’ 7 day candle; a small taper or votive candle will do! On the candle inscribe your full name (or the name of the primary driver/owner) with a sharp pin or your boline, and anything specific you want that candle to do. I often scratch in words such as “safety”, “protection”, “joy” and “blessings”. I would put a square of tin foil under the candle to catch any melted wax. Not only will that save your surface and make for simple cleanup, but it will easily allow you to collect the melted wax to use later.

Have herbs or essential oils such as rosemary, bay, frankincense, jasmine, lavender, mugwort, rowan, and willow available to sprinkle in your bag as well. Be careful about which herbs you use, however…Valerian might well be a powerful protection herb, but it’s also good for sleep. Protection doesn’t do you any good if you get drowsy behind the wheel! (Besides, valerian smells like old gym socks and you don’t want that funk in your car!)

Go ahead and light your candle, saying something like “I light this candle as a beacon to the Universe, asking for protection and blessings on me, my vehicle and anyone / anything who find themselves in my car.” Make sure your wording is broad enough to cover many circumstances (if you say “protect anyone in my car”, it might not extend to your things…if you say “anyone driving my car”, it might not extend to your passengers).

After you have lit the candle and it is burning merrily away, have everyone in your ritual contribute a crystal or stone with the qualities they wish for the car and the car owner. Note: you can also use small charms, slips of paper with your wishes, and other non-rotting materials to put into the mojo bag – I don’t always include herbs or oils, as they can break down over years of exposure in your car, even in the glove compartment – but if you monitor your mojo bag for mold and gunk you should be ok. Stones/crystals are nice because they don’t rot, don’t burn, and are not usually reactive with other items. In essence, they’re very safe tools to use. Some of the stones you might want to consider are amethyst or clear quartz for protection. You can even turn this into a group project to research which stones would be best for this purpose.

As each person drops their stone into the mojo bag, they do so and share their wishes. My favorite wish for a new car owner is “May you never be on a first name basis with your mechanic”. And if your circlemates have more than one wish, they can continue putting in energies and well-wishes into the mojo bag until you all are wished out!

When everyone has said what they need to, add some of the cooled melted wax which has dripped from your candle – see, I told you it would come in handy! – and add it to your bag. For Zeus’s sake, don’t do something silly like pour hot wax into the bag! Have patience and wait for the stuff to harden! If you choose, put any drops of oils, herbs, or other items which you feel would make beneficial additions to your bag. Close the bag tightly and ask the Gods and the Elementals to bless the bag and the car it protects.

Close your circle as you would normally, thanking the Elements, Elementals and Gods for their blessings and keep the bag securely in the car. In my experience, the best place to keep it is in the glove compartment, under the driver’s seat or in a compartment designed to hold other items. The last thing you need is a flying mojo bag in your car thwacking you in the head! Putting it in a secure place will also help keep any volatile ingredients from turning to yuck. What’s important is to make sure that your sacred item will be secure, safe and not in your way as a driver. Drive away knowing that the Universe will do what it can to protect and help you.

Blessings to you and yours on your travels!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Witchy Parties

Us pagans aren’t always all business. We like to let our hair down and have fun too, and what more fun can you have than with people of your own ilk?

I was recently talking to one of my pagan friends and regaling her with tales of the fun I used to have at Witchy Parties several years ago. What’s a Witchy Party, you say? Why – the most fun you can legally and morally have with a bunch of pagans! A Witchy Party is one where the only stakes are filet mignon, the only fire is from candles and a fireplace (or a grill), and the only payment required is a desire to participate. Of course you must be bearing a chocolate item in order to gain admittance, but that’s a pretty easy obligation to fulfill.

Witchy Parties are a great way to bond with other pagans; to make new friends and to meet newcomers in your community. It’s also a good way to introduce others to the pagan community in a relaxed and pleasant environment. I’ve seen these parties both done between friends, and as a public get-together hosted by a local pagan group or shop.

What does one do at a Witchy Party?

Well, that depends on the type of witchy party, of course. Some have a theme – seasonal, holiday/Sabbat, cultural (vampire, your favorite mythological figure/animal), dress as a God/dess night, food theme, color theme, etc. Your witchy party can be part of another celebration, such as a handfasting/wedding, Initiation, Sabbat or Esbat, Wiccaning, birthday or other special day. It can be single gender or co-ed (either way has its benefits!). The party can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic, but remember that safety is paramount; don’t let any witch drink & fly…er…drive.

People usually arrive around dusk, covered dish & chocolate in hand to share. There’s dinner beforehand, and discussion about whatever theme the party chose to embrace. Around this time is when we’d catch up with old friends and make new ones. We’d also share Grimoire recipes, articles, pagan music, and more – smart witches brought laptops and a flash drive to share information! One of the first witchy parties I attended required us to read Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” before attending, and we discussed that over dinner before the other activities began.

After dinner and cleanup, we began the activities. Because witchy parties are about gathering like minded pagans together, we can draw from each others’ knowledge and experiences. Lights were lowered and people spread out to different corners of the room, on couches, tables, on the deck/balcony or wherever you could have a little privacy. Lots of candles were lit, and the atmosphere was very ethereal.

Activities were often of the divinatory nature because not only is it a LOT of fun, but it’s a great way to learn about different techniques. We’d wander from area to area, swapping readings / divination, and it wasn’t limited to just the Tarot! There were rune readers, bone readers, scryers of all types, palm readers, and more. It was not unusual to have guests who brought instruments and played for us, danced and sang, created beautiful henna tattoos, and artists who painted and drew portraits on the spot. There were impromptu rituals done based on need (such as a new car blessing, a new baby, etc.), or provided healing if necessary.

I guess a good way of categorizing a Witchy Party is a gathering of pagans who share their gifts with like minded friends.

After a few hours of our individual activities, the party would evolve as the night progressed. We’d often find ourselves convened in the main room to play games as a group. Games were as pagany as “Pagan Trivial Pursuit” or “Tell me a Story” (where everyone puts down a Tarot card in turn and builds a story together based on the card they pulled); or they were as mundane as Twister and Poker. Sometimes we’d choose to watch supernatural themed movies, especially if they fit with the theme of the night. I once attended a Twisted Witchy Party once, where everything was a little off-center, and we spent most of the night cackling to Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies!

Witchy Parties are probably one of the most fun things you can do as part of your pagan community. Doesn’t matter if it’s a party of 30 or a party of 3 – they are great opportunities for us as Wiccans to interact and enjoy each other in a non-threatening and loving environment! Try it yourself, grab a few of your favorite pagans and rather than just hang out or wonder what you want to do, come up with a witchy party of your own!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Feather Ruffling and E-Witnessing

Wanna know what ruffles my feathers? People who are incapable of respecting others and feel they want to inflict their personal religious beliefs on everyone else.

Let me tell you what happened to me today. And as pagans, don’t tell me you wouldn’t be just a teensy weensy bit miffed.

I’m in the process of planning a vacation for me & my guy to Disney World next year – it will be the first real vacation we’ve had in several years and we are both looking forward to it. We are both Disney fans (though not uber-hardcore), and this will be our first time to Disney World.

I want to make sure that I am as well-versed in all things Disney before going: I’m learning about discounts, plans, itineraries, activities, travel, etc., so we can have a good time and still remain in our budget. After all, Disney ain’t cheap, and I want to make the most of this vacation.

In the process of researching, I joined some popular Disney forums to learn as much as I can. Nothing obscure, nothing with an obvious political or religious bend. In fact, all of the groups I’m in specifically forbid threads which are political or religious in nature.

I’m very polite and only have posted a few times after ensuring that no one else has asked the same question before. My user name on these boards is DisneyWitch. My hobbies are listed as crocheting, techie stuff and alternate spirituality. I feel that it is descriptive enough to be a part of the community without being overt and making people feel uncomfortable. I didn’t mention the words “pagan”, “wiccan”, “witchcraft” or anything else uniquely part of pagandom. After all, DisneyWitch could simply be referring to a love of all things villainous in Disney movies, right?

Well, what did I get in my email this morning? Three separate “You have been subscribed to [Enter Annoying Christian Ministry Name Here] Newsletter”. THREE! I certainly didn’t subscribe myself… so that means some misguided Christian decided I needed to be saved and took it upon themselves to submit my email address to their favorite websites. But the principle is the same – someone felt their need to proselytize outweighed my right to my own beliefs. How arrogant and utterly selfish!

I’m livid. I actually feel violated.

Yeah, I know I can just unsubscribe and I shouldn’t get my knickers in a wad over this. I know that in the great scheme of things, this is so below the radar that it’s almost non-existent. I know this kind of thing has been going on for years before the intarwebz, when people would sign their ex-boyfriend/girlfriend up for umpteen freaky catalogs just to annoy them. But I shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced just because some rabid religious zealot decided to make me their cause-du-jour.

I’m appalled at people who think that because I choose not to be Christian, I would want a stranger invading my inbox with topics which are clearly contrary to my theological viewpoint! I don’t seek out devout Christians on various forums and surreptitiously sign them up for newsletters from the Temple of Set or the Luciferians! I try to be open minded and realize that spirituality has many different ways of thinking. But I am amazed when people look at me as a witch and think they’ll get bonus points if they can convert me. Do they really think that my beliefs are so tenuous that I’ll just capitulate and be baptized on the spot? They act as if I present to them a great challenge so when they reach the pearly gates, St. Peter is going to say, “Oh yes…you over there…you’re the one who converted the witch? Ok, great! Just step to the front of the line, please.” Spare me.

If their efforts to “save” me haven’t worked over the past 30 years, give it up already!

I think I am successful at being cognizant of people’s beliefs and understanding that most people don’t think like I do. I remain respectful, I do not bash any other belief system, and I never “preach”. I have no problem when it comes to how others believe…I just ask that it’s not foisted onto me. This e-preaching – it’s like coming to my door and breaking in without even knocking. At least the Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on your door and give you the opportunity to hide behind the curtains when they come by. I didn’t ask for this information, nor do I want it in my life. I’m perfectly happy with my own beliefs, thank you very much.

My background, training and specialty is digital forensics. I’m currently going through all my old books and reference materials to see if this somehow violates the law. I’m not hopeful, however. It might not even be a fight worth pursuing.

Has this ever happened to you? What did you do about it?
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) Flags, Flax & Fodder,
(¸.•´ (¸.•`Kaerwyn Silverwood, HPS
Coven DragonVeil
1734 Tradition
Maryland, USA

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pagan Seekers & Teachers – What are the Responsibilities?

In 2001, I taught a workshop at a local pagan festival. At the end of the workshop, I was having pleasant conversation with some of the participants. A young man came up to me, interrupted my conversation and announced in a loud voice, “You WILL train me”. While I was a little shocked at his rudeness, I politely refused his demand and returned to my conversation. He immediately interrupted me a second time, insisting that it was my duty as a teacher and High Priestess to train anyone who formally requested such. Needless to say, I did not train him.

It was a real wake up call for me. Not all students and seekers have this attitude of entitlement. But more and more seem to be adopting the “if I ask for it, I should get it” attitude. Just because a seeker asks a teacher for training doesn’t mean the teacher is required to teach. Teaching is something that should be willfully given, not demanded.

In the evolution of Wicca, training resources were limited to people. As the years went on and witchcraft laws were repealed, books emerged which exposed Wicca & Witchcraft to a wider audience. Today we have the internet, and the amount of information out there for the Seeker is staggering. In some ways, finding teachers and information today is much easier than our forefathers/mothers had it. In some ways, it’s more difficult, because you need a stronger filter.

Studying any religious path shouldn’t be an easy road. I require my students to work for their lessons (as I was required to work for mine), or it won’t mean as much to them. I don’t make them clean my house or anything like that. But I do require them to put what they’ve learned into practice – to take the initiative to make the lessons real in their life, no matter how inconvenient it is. They have homework and writing assignments. They are required to take the initiative when it comes to scheduling classes. They need to show in practice that they understand the concepts being taught. A teacher isn’t responsible to chase a student down, if the student wants the knowledge, they will be the ones who schedule classes, show up on time (not pagan standard time), be respectful, and participate.

I believe that if you are a student, you need to be responsible for your own training. After all, it is your spirituality we’re talking about, which should be an important part of your life. You need to choose an ethical and competent teacher, not the first person you meet who might know more than you or who you think is popular in the pagan community. Research the teacher and their Tradition – interview them as much as you expect them to interview you. It is key to respect your Teacher for as long as you choose to study with them. Don’t take advantage of their time, remember that they’re your teacher, not your 24 hour on call psychologist. However, if you don’t agree with your teacher and think they have nothing to teach, you need to leave their tutelage. Don’t pressure them to teach you something – trust that they will teach you what you need to know when you need to know it. That also goes for speaking ill of them to others. If you feel the need to speak negatively about your teacher, it’s a big hint that you need to find another whose training you respect. Unless that teacher does something illegal, remain pleasant; just because they might not be the best teacher for you doesn’t mean they’re not the right teacher for someone else.

Don’t get me wrong, the teacher has responsibilities too. If you choose to teach, you take on the whole bag o’ bananas. As a teacher, you must be discrete in choosing to teach those who will use the information responsibly and not as a game. Don’t take on all comers – you must have discretion, because you are teaching something sacred to you. A teacher should provide the information necessary for their student to succeed and not hold certain pieces for ransom. I’ve seen teachers in my own Tradition withhold certain vital pieces of training and keep students in a type of indentured servitude for as long as they wanted and those students would work as hard as they could for that one little carrot. Teachers should not only train their students in the information, but in HOW to use that information ethically. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is important to remember that those students are karmically tied to the teacher. If those students use the information to hurt others, it will provide a spiritual backlash to the teacher. Most of all, a teacher’s job is to help students manifest their own potential. If you as a teacher can see the potential in a person, you do what you can to help them be the Priest/ess they are.

One of the things I hear in the pagan community is that there are too few teachers and not many people who want training. I don’t think that’s true at all. There are plenty of people willing and able to teach, provide demonstrations/presentations, and give classes. I think perhaps the issue is more along the lines of resources. While most pagan shops require a small fee, up front fees for a Unitarian Universalist church room is exorbitantly high. Public library rooms are not a reliable source either, and might be off limits to religious training. There are few other places for pagan teachers to share their knowledge.

Why not the teacher’s home as a venue? That might be ok for people you know and trust, such as your coven or magickal working group, but it is not always appropriate to bring people to your home that you do not know. The last thing a teacher needs is some Lady FluffWicca McNewbiePants showing up at their house at 2am to deliver a vision of Artemis driving a Panzer tank and wants the teacher to play dream interpreter for them at that moment.

I’m afraid that the fast-food mentality might have permeated some segments of the pagan community. When I tell people that it takes 3+ years of hard training to reach Initiation, they become discouraged. Just putting in the time isn’t enough. The 3 years is a guideline – spiritual benchmarks are what we’re looking for. I guess that’s one way to weed out those who are serious from those who just want the quick hamburger.

Finding a good teacher is a difficult but rewarding process. So too is finding the right students. I’ve had both good and bad students and teachers. But if you’ve made a good match, be grateful and honor it for what it is. The harder you work teaching and studying the more rewarding your spiritual path.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Know Your History

OMG! Did you know that Wicca is the oldest religion ever, in the history of ever? I know, right? Wicca was started 200,000 years ago when the first High Priestess named LilithAmbergrisFluffbucket wrote her Book of Shadows on a banana leaf with her A-thame when she escaped the first Burning Times in Atlantis! And it’s remained unchanged ever since. Seriously, I read it on the intarwebz!

Yes, I know the above paragraph is ridiculous, and it’s supposed to be. But it’s not that much different than some of the things I’ve heard in my travels in pagandom. There are people who insist that “Nine Million European Women Died!” during the Inquisition because that’s what the song “The Burning Times” said. A little research will render that fact as myth – though the numbers are still staggering (anywhere between 50,000 and 300,000 people died during the Inquisition) if you consider the population of Europe during that time.

Pagans love to live in the here & now – and that can be a good thing. But to be well rounded Witch, we need to know where we truly came from, not to devise a good story. This is not a Dungeon & Dragons campaign where we can conjure up a dramatic background for us to keep things interesting. The history of Wicca is not one where some High Priest or High Priestess was trained in Atlantis by the Fairies and passed down the knowledge since the dawn of civilization.

Let’s get the most important myth out of the way – repeat after me: “Longevity does NOT equal validity.” That’s a fancy way of saying that just because something is old doesn’t mean it is better. Wicca in its current iteration is only about 80 years old. Yes, my friends, it is not even a century old. The United States – one of the youngest of the first world countries on this planet – is more than twice as old as our religion! That doesn’t mean Wicca is worthless or invalid – far from it. Our understanding of genetics is also pretty young in comparison to other scientific disciplines, but we wouldn’t tell a geneticist that his or her work is worthless because it’s not steeped in antiquity, right? Still, we need to understand that we cannot make claims that Wicca as it is practiced today is the same stuff practiced by pagan peoples hundreds or thousands of years ago. That is simply not true.

I’m not going to go into the full history of Wicca in this article. There are authors better than I who have tackled that subject, and it’s a topic I teach new Witches in my classes. One of my favorite books is by Ronald Hutton called “Triumph of the Moon”. There are also excellent books written by authors who have LIVED and shaped the history of Wicca, such as Doreen Valiente, Margot Adler, Gerald Gardner and more. In your own library, it is not enough to have the more popular authors present – remember those who came before and read them.

Why is learning Wiccan history so important? Because in order to understand your current practice, you need to understand the evolution of the practice and how it began. Wicca might be under a century old, but the tenets it subscribes to, the concepts, the cosmology and attitudes come from wisdom gleaned over hundreds, even thousands of years. What I mean is that Wicca in its current form is relatively young when compared to some other religions, but it draws from ideas based in antiquity, worships the same Gods and Goddesses our ancestors connected with. In some ways it is a reawakening of ancient practices using a new methodology to reflect our own spiritual and social evolution.

A good pagan tends to ask “why” and “how” a lot. Why are our Circles cast this way? Why did this tool become intrinsic to our Craft? Why are these words said and what do they mean? Who wrote this chant / prayer / spell? How did this concept become incorporated into common Craft lore?

It’s one thing to practice your faith, it’s an entirely different matter to understand the rationale behind it. If you blindly cast your Circles, celebrate Sabbats & Esbats, and execute spellwork without understanding where these things come from, you are missing the core of your purpose. And, my friends, isn’t PURPOSE important when using Will and Intent to make your magick? You’re shortchanging your magickal practice and your spiritual evolution.

In addition, just going through the motions without knowing why or how it came to be makes us little more than sheeple – those folks who just bleat out the words without understanding the meaning. That’s not what a Witch is. A Witch is the master of his/her destiny and actions. Allowing someone else to dictate how you behave is giving that control away – learning about your practices in depth takes that control back.

This is why it is imperative that every Priest and Priestess of Wicca, every practitioner of the Craft, knows the history of Neo-Paganism. Learn about Eclectics as well as Traditionalists, the founding mothers and fathers of the Craft (living and non-living alike); read their books and learn what they based their ideas on, even if you don’t agree with them. Read voraciously. Don’t believe every bit of hype without verifying it (and not just on the internet either!). Most of all, be in control of your own spiritual practice. Learn your history – it can only enhance your understanding of you as a Witch in today’s world.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sing the May Song of Beltane

May 1st marks one of the most beloved, and perhaps one of the most misunderstood Sabbats in pagandom - Beltane. This Sabbat has its origins in Europe, primarily from the Celtic regions. It means, literally, Fire of Bel – Bel, Belen or Belinos being just one name of the Sun God who we honor this day. In the Pagan calendar, this is one of the eight stops/holidays on the cycle we call the "Wheel of the Year". Beltane is known as a "fire festival", which means it is not connected to a solstice or equinox - it's a day chosen outside solar or lunar calendars.

Whether you spell it Beltane, Beltaine, Beal-tinne, Bealtine, whether you call it Beltane or Roodmas or Walpurgisnacht or whether you celebrate it on April 30, May 1 or May 2, is no matter. It remains an honored and enjoyed tradition in Wiccan practice. Beltane is a celebration about fertility in all its forms, personified through the sacred marriage of the God and the Goddess. It honors the power of growth and the importance of balance. The Lady is all grown up and the Lord is rited into manhood. They are ready to imbue the Earth with their blessings.

When we talk about the marriage between the Lord and Lady, it is not about the marriage of our contemporary understanding, but rather a carnal & spiritual joining between the male and female Divine. From their union comes abundance and fertility which is shared with the Earth and those of us on it. Using the axiom "as above, so below", this fertility is drawn into our world and feeds the summer and fall months – and we see this abundance manifested in our autumnal harvest. One of the most popular customs associated with Beltane is the Maypole. It is a strong and tall tree trunk representing the God, which is affixed with ribbons on the top. Over the extended ribbons lay a wreath of flowers, representing the Goddess. As the maypole ribbons are woven by dancers each holding a ribbon, the wreath is lowered symbolizing the union between the God and Goddess. Sometimes, the Maypole becomes the fodder for the Midsummer or Samhain fires later that year.

This sacred union of the Lord and Lady spawned many customs and taboos about marriage – some which survive to this day. Some say the first full moon span after the wedding was when the Lord and Lady would remain sequestered together, drinking only wine and eating only honey. Of course, this led to the concept of the “honey-moon” that most married couples partake in. However, May was considered the month of the God and Goddess’ wedding – so if you wanted to marry, it was expected that you would kindly respect the Divine Couple’s month. Hence, May became an unlucky month to marry in. This is one of the reasons why getting married in June became popular. The exchanging of rings has a Beltane component, symbolizing infinity and longevity. Another belief was that the God & Goddess give boons to those of us who came to celebrate their union. In Europe, it’s still very common to see newlyweds leaving their ceremony tossing candy or money out the back of their vehicle (car, carriage, etc.) throughout the village for the children to chase after and collect.

Yes, there were and are still many carnal associations to Beltane, and they can be quite sacred with consenting adults and in appropriate ways. Certainly, Beltane can be one of the most sexual of all the Sabbats, but that aspect doesn’t need to be emphasized in your practice. Understand that it is a spiritual and symbolic act. It is never wanton or vulgar. It is a celebration of the gift of love on many levels – spiritual and physical. In ages past and until the 19th Century, “Greenwood marriages”, (or as we call them today, “one-night-stands”) were popular on Beltane. Consummating such a marriage in a field would ensure fertility and success for that harvest. Today, spending the Beltane night with your significant other mimics the Sacred Marriage and ensures a year of luck & love to come. Fertility, however, is more than just physical. It is spiritual and mental as well – and spurs our creativity and abundance as much as anything else.

There are many traditions associated with Beltane. Women and young ladies braided flowers in their hair, as would befit someone attending a wedding. Young ladies would wash their faces with the morning dew to ensure a beautiful complexion. Wells and sacred water were visited and honored. Flowers would be strewn all over homes, people, animals and anything which was sacred and special, in the belief that the more you honored the God & Goddess, the more abundance you would draw to yourself. Fires are extinguished the night before Beltane and relit from the “Need Fire” which is started at dawn, sometimes from the Yule log which was kept burning since Winter Solstice. The Beltane fire was especially potent. Women who wished to get pregnant would jump over the Beltane fire – and those who didn’t want to become pregnant would gladly take the long way around! Some people acted out the Great Hunt, whereby the Lord and Lady chase each other. First the Lady is the one pursued by the Lord and then the tables are turned and he becomes the happy prey who would gets tangled up in the Maypole dance.

This is the time of year that cattle were put into their summer grazing fields and therefore beginning to enjoy the bounties of late spring. People in Europe used to drive their cattle through the Beltane fire (quickly, of course) to bring blessings on their livestock. As this is also the time for fairies to be very active – especially the mischievous ones – the cattle and homes were sprinkled with water from a sacred well to keep the fairies from turning milk sour and from causing mayhem in the home. Fairies were considered to be especially active during the first 3 days of May, and people feared that they would steal their children and bewitch cattle – so all the doors were locked and children were kept very close at night.

What does this mean for us as pagan practitioners? It means we bring a time of abundance into our personal worlds. We look for fertility in all aspects of our lives and take advantage of the Divine Couple’s boons. If you have a partner, share your love with them in honor of the Sacred Marriage. If you are single, raise a toast of mead, apple wine or apple cider to the Lord and Lady, wishing them a bountiful year. If you can’t participate in a Maypole Dance, a few twirls around your Circle (or living room) and some fresh flowers in your home in honor of the date is more than appropriate.

Beltane can be family friendly too – the Maypole is a great opportunity to dance and welcome summer into our lives. Even having kids walk around a park or house picking up litter to make a fitting place for the fairies to dance is a good way to celebrate! Perhaps a young child (or you!) can dress up like the May Queen or the Sun King and dance with the merrymakers. Making flower crowns/necklaces and adornments is a great way to welcome the Lord and Lady to the fullness of Spring.

And whatever you do, don’t forget to appease the Fairies! Make a basket of shiny things for them to play with, and if you wish, leave them cookies, milk and flowers, and put it near your home, perhaps in the garden. It will keep them busy long enough to forget to cause any mischief!

Beltane is one of my favorite Sabbats because it’s truly a festive time! It is a wonderful celebration, full of laughter, love, joy and blessings. Enjoy the bounty of the Gods, and be part of celebration! Take advantage of this time of year to connect with the Divine Couple and bring those blessings upon yourself and your home.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Freebird – Nudity and the Craft

Pagans are known to be open and honest about themselves. You can see this in their music, their dance, rituals and in their behaviors. If you’ve ever been to a pagan festival, you might have come across a little “nekkididity” in your travels. Sometimes this “nekkididity” happens through ecstatic dancing, in a ritual, or just because someone forgot their swimsuit! But before we sit in judgment, we should first understand the importance of being skyclad.

What is being Skyclad all about?

Skyclad is a term in paganism which means literally “being clad by the sky”, i.e., with nothing/air. Once you understand the reasons why pagans choose to be skyclad, it’s a lot easier to get over the shock of seeing your first naked pagan – it’s really not a big deal! Contrary to what non-pagans might think, being naked is not about sex. Being naked in paganism is about more important concepts: being vulnerable and showing trust towards the community; being free from societal rules and conformities; being in the “now moment” with nothing between you and nature; feeling free enough to be yourself.

As a pagan, you shouldn’t be afraid of skyclad events, but you should be prepared for them if you choose to attend. You do not ever have to participate in skyclad event, nor should you ever allow yourself to be bullied into participating. This is a personal decision, and is based on your experiences and personal boundaries / comfort level. Some pagans are more selective where and when they are skyclad, choosing only to be so around select initiates or with those they trust implicitly.

As a responsible pagan, you should always know of the dress (or non-dress) code of whatever pagan event you’re attending. Most public festivals and gatherings will be very clear if their event is skyclad or “clothing-optional”. This also goes for the words “adult content”. If you see any of those words in the brochure or announcement, be prepared to see some twigs, berries and melons of the human kind. If you attend, know that even if you choose to wear clothes, others may not – and you can’t expect them to change their rules just because you might get creeped out by seeing someone’s hoo-hah. If you have a problem with seeing “nekkididity”, you might want to choose another festival to attend.

If you’re going to a private ritual or Circle, make sure you know beforehand if the ritual will be skyclad. Some traditions celebrate rituals in this way – but if they’re ethical and understanding, they will make sure that every guest knows this well in advance and given the opportunity not to participate if they are uncomfortable.

I remember my first skyclad person at a pagan festival. It was a bit disconcerting at first, but with a little open-mindedness and understanding it became a non-issue. The following guidelines might be of some help.

clip_image001 Having an opportunity to be skyclad does not equal an opportunity to show off a hot bod or how well endowed you think you are. The pagan community is not a captive audience for people to play out exhibitionist tendencies. If that’s the reason why you’re shedding your clothes, you might want to re-examine the reasons for being skyclad in the first place.

clip_image001[1] Always carry a sarong or other similar clothing for quick cover ups. You never know when Ranger Bob and his buddies might want to perform a spot check on the grounds.

clip_image001[2] It is human nature to stare at what is least familiar to us. We will blush and our bodies will exhibit odd behavior until our minds figure out that this is not a big deal. Don’t sweat it! It’s not always a sexual thing - it’s just our poor brains trying to adapt to something we’re not used to seeing. Remember to look into a person’s eyes when you’re talking to them – the “John Thomas” has nothing important to say.

clip_image001[3] If you’re in someone’s private circle and they’re all skyclad, you should be too. If that is a problem for you, ask to be excused.

clip_image001[4] If you are skyclad at a festival or other outdoor pagan event, be aware that you will have private bits which have rarely been this exposed to the world. Give yourself an extra slathering of sunscreen and be generous with bug repellant; be super careful around bonfires and candles (ashes and embers leave marks) and be aware of dancers who get a bit too exuberant!

clip_image001[5] Being skyclad is not an invitation to get frisky, nor should it ever have sexual overtones. Being skyclad is no invitation to sexual harassment. Be aware of the people around you, their actions, and always remember safety first.

clip_image001[6] If you choose to go skyclad, be aware of where you’re at. Is it ok to be skyclad in this area of the grounds/home? Make sure if you’re in an area that is “clothing mandatory”, that your bits are covered – no one wants to worry about children witnessing an adult act or nudity that would best have remained private.

clip_image001[7] Be aware of any children who are wandering around. If no parent is present, simply cover up and leave the area, whether it’s clothing optional or not. If the child’s parents are there and they’re ok with their children being around skyclad adults, you should be ok.

clip_image001[8] Sometimes large festivals will allow “clothing optional” areas to cover the entirety of the grounds or sometimes they will have special areas designated for such attire or adult activities. This is especially if they want to assure that children are kept safe. Oftentimes festivals will have very specific rules or areas set aside for these activities. Some names they might use for these specific areas are “Aphrodite’s Grove” or “Pan’s Playground”. Know what the areas are for before you barge in – you’ll be happy you were prepared.

Only you know what your personal boundaries are. You can be clear about your boundaries and still be respectful of the boundaries of your pagan kin. Many pagans like myself choose to not go skyclad in public, but we also don’t begrudge others to do so if it is their choice and isn’t harming anyone. You are no less of a pagan if you choose to remain clothed at an event, and don’t let someone bully you into thinking otherwise. Being skyclad is a sacred and beautiful thing, and it is up to you with whom you share that level of vulnerability and trust.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Your Magickal Documentation: Book of Shadows and Grimoires

Many pagans believe that it’s important to keep a written record of successes, not-so-successes and things they want to remember down the road. You’ll often find that pagans and Wiccans/Witches have books detailing their magickal practice for their own personal reference – you’ve probably heard the terms before: “Book of Shadows” (often referred to as the BoS) and “Grimoire”. Like so much in Paganism, there are multiple definitions for the same item. Depending on your own personal definition, and/or the definition you were taught, your Book of Shadows is different than your Grimoire; and your personal definition will dictate which one is your private documentation and which one can be shared with others.

A Book of Shadows and a Grimoire share the same purpose – they are both compilations of information & knowledge. The difference in what you call each one depends on how you use them. Your personal definitions of a Grimoire and a BoS are linked with the group you practice with, your own personal understanding of each type of book, and your personal comfort level. You can substitute the word “Grimoire” for “Book of Shadows” as many pagans do, but the bottom line is that one book is private and one book is public, which means that the terms are not necessarily interchangeable. I was taught to define and use my own Grimoires and BoS by my own teachers; please understand that mine is just one way of approaching my magickal documentation and not necessarily the only or right way. My training might be very different from what you’ve read or were trained yourself. Remember, the definition that works best for you is the right one!

What are these books?

Grimoire – my Grimoire is a public book. I like to refer to my Grimoire as my “recipe book”. It contains information that I refer to frequently and share with my pagan friends, lists, classes and for research. Many of my public and private classes have benefitted from information I’ve collected in my Grimoire over the years. My Grimoire contains public ritual liturgies, recipes (oils, herbs, soaps, beauty items, foods, etc.), activities, information about other cultures, how other pagans practice their beliefs, chants, music, and other magickal systems. In my Grimoire you will find historical information, articles I found particularly useful, resource information, God & Goddess information from outside my own personal pantheon, and a LOT of pagan humor.

Book of Shadows – my BoS is an intensely private book. Like many other Traditionalist Witches, it is passed down from teacher to student and must initially be copied by hand. Currently my BoS is a plain journal with over 110 typed pages (much to my students’ chagrin!). The Coven BoS contains information on our practice (much of which is Oathbound), spells and outcomes of said spells, our Initiatory Lineage tree, important rituals, and the Lore which is particular to my Tradition and Coven. Needless to say, this book is definitely not for public consumption. Not only does it have items that I carefully guard, but it contains rituals such as Initiations that we do not perform frequently and might forget if they weren’t written down. In the past, BoS’s were required to be memorized in case they had to be destroyed quickly and needed to be recreated from memory. This is a hearkening to the time when Witchcraft was illegal, and Witches had to dispose of any evidence of their religion.

Each book should be treated as a magickal tool – for that is what they are. They should be consecrated in sacred space – the easiest way to do this is to smudge them with sage incense or to place a drop of protection oil on the inside cover. If you consecrate your sacred jewelry or other ritual tools, use the same format for your book of shadows. Many people have inscriptions, sigils, and other protective devices in their Book of Shadows and/or Grimoires. Some people even dedicate their books to deities such as Athena, Ogma, or Thoth to as for the Gods’ protection and inspiration. Either way, these books are not to be tossed about willy-nilly as you would last week’s magazine. These are sacred books which hold your magickal secrets and knowledge.

There are tons of e-BoS’s and e-Grimoires on the Internet, both for sale and for free. Some of these are very elaborate, using fancy software tools and containing animation, graphics and sound. Some are simply PDF files of typewritten page scans. A favorite place for me to visit is which has great information! Be careful if you come across a coven’s private Book of Shadows or Grimoire (whichever is their “private” book). That’s like finding someone’s diary – make sure that coven/group is ok with handing out their private documentation. There are unscrupulous people out there looking to make a buck off of others – it’s not unheard of for a disgruntled student to seek revenge against their erstwhile coven by posting that coven’s Book of Shadows on the Internet or selling it for a profit.

But what about electronic versions?

In our modern age of technology and computers, it is becoming more common to see all kinds of Pagans keeping their Grimoires and BoS’s in electronic form. Certainly I do this, and there are ways to make sure you safeguard your information while keeping your documentation completely portable and user-friendly. My personal Grimoire is electronic, which is perfectly fine since it is designed to be shared with others. Practicality is the reason why I keep my Grimoire on my computer - I currently have over 30,000 files in it and add more every day via pagan lists, emailed information I get from friends and tidbits I come across on the Internet. I’d have to dedicate a room in my home to store all those printed documents – and think of the trees! Not to mention, trying to find a single file would be impossible if I had to manually flip through every page. The e-Grimoire is useful because I can easily share it with my pagan friends. I am often asked for information, and it’s really nice to be able to cut & paste the appropriate information in an email. It’s another way for me to remain active with my community.

Now, the electronic Book of Shadows is a whole other beastie. Choosing to make this electronic or not is a personal decision which should be based on how guarded you want this documentation to be and how well you understand what it takes to protect it. Some Books of Shadows, like Lady Sheba’s in the early/mid 1970’s, are published and open to be read. The majority, however, are kept privately and never shared outside the Tradition or Coven. I would humbly suggest that you refrain from digitalizing your private Book of Shadows unless you’re familiar with how to safeguard it. Furthermore, you should never email or post your BoS on the internet. It’s amazingly easy for an opportunist to pick up information in transit across the internet. Just think about all the people who frequent the internet – we know they’re not all benign and kind. There are actual programs that do nothing but connect to the internet and sift out information to be used for selfish purposes.

Here’s what I do to protect my own e-BoS. I’m a little bit of a technical geek, so my training in computer security is pretty comprehensive. My BoS is not only encrypted using a highly sophisticated algorithm, but has a mechanism that will corrupt and destroy the file if the wrong password is chosen 3 times. Unless you are comfortable with this level of technology, you might want to rethink whether your private magickal information is appropriate in this form. After all, this is your magickal record; you want to be able to safeguard it as much as possible.

However you choose to definite your Grimoire or your Book of Shadows is up to you. But it’s nice to have them nearby, whether you want to replicate that money spell that worked so well 3 years ago, or to look up the words to a Mill Wheel chant you want to incorporate in your next ritual. Your magickal documentation is your own private history on what you’ve done, what you’ve learned and how you’ve used it to evolve spiritually. These books are an invaluable tool which will serve your practice for many years to come!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Odd Man Out – Conservatives in Paganism

It’s a real pet peeve of mine – that all pagans are stereotypically uber-liberal, Birkenstock-wearing, coop-shopping, commune-living eccentrics whose every idea flies in the face of the mainstream. Certainly there is nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned activities, but they are not criteria for inclusion into Pagandom. And they’re certainly not to be associated with Paganism. Paganism is a belief system, something you live, an intangible abstract which isn’t necessarily obvious to others.

One of the most beautiful things about the pagan community is its diversity. We see the eyes of the God and Goddess in everyone – regardless of gender, orientation, preferences, ideologies or anything else. That’s why I become dismayed when I see my erstwhile tolerant pagan brethren look askance when other pagans don’t share their points of view.

Paganism is not a contest to see who can be “freakier than thou”. The fallacy is believing that you can judge a good pagan by how left-of-center they are; or conversely, can become a good pagan by espousing behaviors which may not be considered commonplace in our society. The pagan community is one of the most tolerant faith-based groups on this planet. You will find people of every color, sexual persuasion and type welcomed. Because of this, sometimes we may forget the silent minority in pagandom – the conservative. Conservative is a relative term, too…because it doesn’t necessarily mean conservative on a political level, but people who are less likely to choose behaviors which might be new and avant garde.

While it is perfectly ok to embrace a plethora of lifestyles, it’s also ok to NOT partake of them. Let me give you an example which I have experienced. Those who know me know that I am unabashedly straight and monogamous, though that often makes me a minority in many pagan circles. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been accused of being a prude, or elitist, or even a “bad” pagan because I choose not to be polyamorous or partake of a plural relationship, or embark on a relationship with another woman.  It’s simply not my thing. I like being straight and I like being with one man.Apparently, being “vanilla” to some equals being closed minded. Let me assure you, nothing is further from the truth.

And there are many pagans who feel they must – or are sometimes pressured into – partaking in plural relationships (also known as polyamory), or BDSM, or other non-mainstream behaviors, in order to be a good pagan. If they’re not a part of something “freaky”, then they’re not really pagan because they’ve sold out. We as pagans need to make sure to change this misconception within our own community.

In my travels, I have met pagans of all types: straight, gay, transgendered, polyamorous, republican, democrat, monogamous, bisexual, omnisexual, and more. Imagine me trying to tell one of my lesbian friends that they’re being closed minded because they choose not to be intimate with men? Crazy thought, huh? Yet people seem to think it’s ok to do the same to a pagan who chooses to be a little more circumspect, a little less “out there” than some. Personal preference is personal preference. No matter how convincing you think you are, it’s not your job to “turn me” into something I’m not.

I will admit that I am a little more conservative than most of my pagan friends. I don’t have tattoos, no multiple piercings, and really the only thing that separates me from my neighbors is that I have a few more Deities than they do. Like many, maybe most pagans, I think that as long as you don’t intentionally hurt others, what you do in the privacy of your own home is your own beeswax. I don’t need to know about it, nor do I need to feel guilty because I don’t partake in it. In spite of my boringness, I am a good pagan. I write, I teach, I learn, I share what I know with others, I participate in my local pagan community. I don’t need to prove my “pagan-ness”. I’ve seen new pagans feel that they need to take part in activities they wouldn’t normally indulge in, only to prove that they’re not “closed minded” or too square to be a pagan.

There are people in the community who sometimes feel that their activities outside paganism are what paganism is. Paganism is not being a vegetarian, it’s not BDSM, it’s not your sexual practices, it’s not your gender preferences, it’s not the clothes you wear or the political causes you take up. They are not part of your pagan practice – they are part of your personal practice, which is different for everyone. What makes one a pagan is actually very simple: do you connect with Deity? Do you recognize the cycles of the earth as sacred? Do you honor every person you meet as an aspect of the God and Goddess? The Gods don’t care what you do when you close your bedroom door. Nor do they care what style of clothes you wear, or what political candidate you are backing this year. They care about your integrity, your spiritual evolution and whether or not you are true to yourself (and others).

Over a decade ago, I met a woman who was beaten severely at the hands of her “high priest” (non-caps intentional). He was into bondage/discipline/sado-masochism and incorporated it into his practice. It made me a little sick to my stomach to think that there are people out there who define paganism by the use of these behaviors. What consenting adults do is not my concern…but it isn’t my faith either, and I resent people trying to tell me that it is.

Yep, this is my pet peeve and though most pagans are not guilty of it, the ones who are guilty of this have affected my interactions with pagans to a great extent. As a rule, there’s a “live and let live” mentality in pagandom. But there are a handful of folks out there who continue to view more conservative folks – or perceived conservatism (as I’m pretty liberal when compared to mainstream folks) – as an attack or judgment against them. They look at people like me with derision, as if we are elitist or have some sort of superiority complex. When more conservative pagans say “It’s not my thing”, they sometimes hear “I don’t do it because it’s a bad thing and you’re bad for doing it.” That is not the case at all.

Being a pagan is about honoring our spiritual Selves and connecting with our own Divine nature; it’s about recognizing and respecting our unique differences and needs. It’s not about who is a “better” pagan or making an assumption about someone’s spiritual evolution based upon the person they choose as a partner, what they choose to wear or what causes they wish to champion. The way to be a better pagan is to transcend these petty fallacies and to be the best person you can.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Open My Eyes – A Meditation in Many Parts – Part 7

What’s all this mean?

On a spiritual level, we are all potential recruits being evaluated by the Gods. 2009 was all about culling – transformation and change. It is about cutting away those things which keep us from our goals. I know have had to do that with a lot of my spiritual work and those who were keeping me from it (even unintentionally). I had to get over the fact that sometimes “newagers” and “fluffy bunnies” carry kernels of truth that my own personal bias would have otherwise dismissed, and that whether you see Spirit as “Cerridwen” or “Angels” or “Fairies” or “Dragons” or whatever name you wish to put on it – it’s still a part of the Divine. This realization, change and transformation is sometimes painful. Sometimes it makes us cast a critical eye upon ourselves. But there is no growth without pain, and growth is all about change. You can’t have one without the other. It is a testament to our own Divine Selves to endure the difficult times, so that we might discover Wisdom.

In 2010, the trees of our lives have been pruned and are ready to grow in a more productive manner. I anticipate the Universe giving me many opportunities to get my act together by making me set aside any resentment, residual elitism, or other negative behaviors which might put me out of whack with where my Gods want me to be.

Once I feel comfortable with that change, 2011 will show me the skills I need to cultivate in order to “do the Work”, as my Sire Priest used to say. I wonder what that will mean. Am I to be positioned as a teacher? A writer? An observer? An energy worker? A diviner? Or will I be called upon to do something completely new & different?

2012 will be about receiving, but the question is: Receiving what? New responsibilities, benefits, change? Is it a judgment of sorts, where we will reap what we sow?

At the risk of sounding cliché, time will indeed tell. My meditations only gave me a brief glimpse into the possibility of what’s out there, out of many possibilities available.

I will say this: the next few years will be interesting to see how my meditation plays out. I don’t even know if it’s a message for me, or for people in general.

Open My Eyes – A Meditation in Many Parts – Part 6

Aligning, Positioning and Receiving

Once the executive has identified potential recruits (weeding the crummy ones out), he puts his candidates in strategic positions to ensure they have the appropriate attitude and viewpoints which support the mission. This is the time for the candidate not only to learn about the executive who hired them, but more importantly to learn about the company, its philosophies, ethics & methodologies – and decide to either join forces, or part ways and find something more suited to them.

The executive then sees which recruits have embraced his (read: the company’s) methodologies and mindset of the organization. Essentially, he determines which people will play well in his sandbox. At that point, the recruits are put in positions and given responsibilities which will prepare them for the team’s mission and their part in it. This includes training and further evaluation.

At this point, the executives and the rest of the team evaluate each other until they are relatively sure that every other person on their team has a similar commitment and purpose. They are relatively sure that each person is a viable & productive team mate; who will be committed to furthering the mission and goals of the team and the organization as a whole. They are now peers, and given the full responsibilities and respect due to them. They are now part of the greater whole.

Next post: Meditation, part 7 – What does this mean?

Open My Eyes – A Meditation in Many Parts – Part 5

Culling is a term most often associated with animal husbandry. If I got to, it says: “Culling is the process of removing animals from a group based on specific criteria. This is done in order to either reinforce certain desirable characteristics or to remove certain undesirable characteristics from the group.” My understanding of this is that culling gets rid of any animal that is detrimental to the whole. If you have a sick animal, you need to make sure it doesn’t infect the rest; if you have a disruptive animal (one that bites, is aggressive), you remove it before it harms the rest of the group.

From a spiritual viewpoint, however, culling is about removing those things / behaviors / people which harm you as a whole person.

Being a business professional in the mundane world, my mind (or was it again Spirit explaining things to me using concepts in my ken?) came up with this scenario: An executive (I’m gonna call it a HIM, just for ease of writing), looking to build the right team first approaches, say, a college or other organization to recruit prospective folks. Those people meet with him and he interviews tons of folks. Then he divides the people he’s interviewed into 2 groups – those with the qualities he’s looking for, and those who just “don’t get it”.

This is culling – the separation of those individuals who are not healthy to preserve the integrity of the greater whole.

Next post: Meditation, part 6 – Aligning, Positioning & Receiving

Open My Eyes – A Meditation in Many Parts – Part 4

Ok, back to the meditation. The gentleman in the clearing sits down and I do the same, facing him. He said, “The current Wheel is about culling” and in my mind I could see forest fires, and then a large refuse bin (you know, those big ones about the size of a boxcar) outside my house, filled to the brim.

He continued, “The next Wheel will be about aligning; the following Wheel will be about positioning. Then the Wheel will allow us to receive.”

He stood up and walked out of the forest, leaving me to ponder on what he just said. I knew it was important, so I sat there and thought about the 4 words he used:

clip_image001 Culling

clip_image001[1] Aligning

clip_image001[2] Positioning

clip_image001[3] Receiving

This would correspond to the 4 years in question: 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. I began to meditate on each of these terms in a more macroscopic view.

Next post: Meditation, part 5 – Culling

Open My Eyes – A Meditation in Many Parts – Part 3

Let me segue into what I think about this “2012 stuff”. (Current note: Yes, I know I already did a whole post on it, but work with me here)

I will start by saying that I believe the human race will be here to see 2013. I am a prophecy buff by nature. Nostradamus, Cayce, Casteneda, Mother Shipton, Hogue, etc., I believe the Mayans. Like many other civilizations before (and unlike) us, they were incredibly spiritual. I do not believe that the end of their calendar and the date when the earth goes through the galactic center is a coincidence. But I also know that prophecy, like most spiritual things, should rarely be taken literally.

Like our meditations, the Universe converses with us in a symbolic language unique to the viewer, and it is as difficult to decipher and interpret prophecy as to understand it.

Do I think something is on its way? Absolutely. Do I think it will be the literal “end of the world”? Not so much. At the risk of sounding too much like a “newager”, I think it will be a time when we will change our understanding of the world. I am hopefully optimistic that it will herald an age of tolerance, peace and spiritual evolution.

Or so I hope.

Next post: Meditation, part 4 – back to the meditation

Open My Eyes – A Meditation in Many Parts – Part 2

I am walking along the edge of my familiar forest – the one I frequent when I meditate. Everything seems in order, nothing is out of place or strikes me as odd. I venture into the forest, into a small clearing within the grove. This is where I usually interact with Spirit in whatever guise it chooses to take (usually as a patron God or Goddess or other spiritual entities).

Standing there was someone I had never seen before. He was an older gentleman, not aged, but definitely not young. As this meditation happened in December, it could have been the Holly King who was about to reach his apex, so it wasn’t particularly strange to me.

A truism in my meditative experience is that the Gods don’t show up without a reason. Not being one to offend, I approached the gentleman in the clearing. He said, “What do you wish to know?”, which in my experience means “Ask me something, but I can’t promise you’ll like the answer.” Being the end of the mundane year, I said, “What things are coming up for me?” I was expecting something direct like “It will be a year for you to concentrate on [whatever my focus should be]” or indirect like “The red duck flies at midnight” and leave me to figure out what the heck he meant. I received neither type of answer.

He said, “I kknow you don’t believe in all that 2012 stuff, but the next few wheels will be very important.” In my world, a Wheel is a year cycle.

Next post: Meditation, part 3 – a segue into the 2012 conundrum