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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 www.sacred-texts.com 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 www.wikipedia.org, 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

Open My Eyes – A Meditation in Many Parts – Part 1

I am a firm believer in meditation. It doesn’t have to be the uber-spiritual, hyper-mystical kind either. Just a chance to give the Gods / Spirit / Universe a few minutes of your day to help you reconnect, recharge & renew.

I spend about ½ hour a day in meditation, and not always at the same time. I know, there are purists out there who are aghast at my non-conventional methods, but there it is. I guess you can call me an “opportunistic meditator”. To me, meditating can be as simple as focusing on some issue in my life or just being grateful. But it is more often spent in the Shadowlands – what other might refer to as the Spirit World or Astral / Akashic Realms. Rarely do I share my experiences with others; these times are intensely personal – and to be honest, they’re rather boring.

However, a recent meditation late last year was the exception. I shared it with two people whom I trusted, and both told me the same thing – I needed to share this with others. Well, I have this here blog, so here I go!

Please remember that this is my meditation, and the Universe / Gods / Spirit speak to me in the language & symbology I understand. It might not make sense to anyone else – hell, most of the time it doesn’t make sense to me either!

Next post: Meditation, part 2 – the Beginning

2012 –One Pagan’s Perspective

So, I’m thinking about 2012 a lot, mainly because it’s become a part of so many conversations lately. I watched the 2012 movie when it came out in November 2009 – it was a lot of fun, but that’s about it. I watch the documentaries, but no one can agree on anything more than “The Mayans Said it”. And there are eleventybillion books out there, each contrary to the one before it. /sigh  

The New Age / Metaphysical / Alternative Theology / Pagan communities have long been fascinated with prophecy. Rattling off names like Nostradamus, Carlos Castaneda, Mother Shipton, and Edgar Cayce seems to have become commonplace, and most people are familiar with at least one of these names. Even whole cultures have prophecies, such as the Hopi Nation and the Maya.

It’s funny to think that the general populace knows more about the 2012 prophecies than about almost any other set of prophecies throughout history. We also know frighteningly little about those same prophecies. I guess what I’m saying is that we know just enough about these words to cause a great deal of fear and not a lot of empowerment. Media, television, movies, books, and the internet give us both information and DISinformation on the topic. If we believe the hype, December 21, 2012 will be filled with (a) fire and brimstone, (b) earth pole shifts, giving way to cataclysms, (c) the end of the world on a physical level, (d) alien visitations, (e) humanity being brought kicking & screaming to a higher / fifth dimension either through extraterrestrial intervention or through vibrational evolution, (f) the Elite (whoever they are) will finally control the world or (g) absolutely nothing.

So confusing! So hyped! So scary! So mysterious!

So what!

I am the first person to admit that I’m fascinated by prophesy. But as a tarot reader / intuitive and a teacher of divination, I understand that the future is never set in stone. I, like many of my more spiritually minded friends, know that visions of the future are sometimes shrouded in allegory or symbolism. Sometimes visions of the future are nothing more than a warning; someone saying, “If you continue doing what you’re doing, this is the most likely outcome”.

Back to 2012 and the hysteria that has been going along with it. The bottom line is that no one knows what is going to happen. The Mayan long count calendar ends, but that might means something other than “OMG we’re all gonna die!”. Like most other civilizations (and unlike our own), the Mayans seems to have viewed time as cyclical, not linear. It’s not as if their concept of time is like one big ol’ version of “Groundhog Day”, but about evolutionary cycles. If you look at other civilizations, you will find that time as a series of spirals or cycles is commonplace and this understanding makes up a fundamental tenet in paganism today. Maybe the Mayan grand cycle was ending and they wanted to make sure people knew that this was a time to embark on a new cycle. This new cycle would share some of the same qualities as the old but because of our experiences, it would be evolved. So, and please pardon the pun, why reinvent the wheel?

Maybe the Mayans believed that we as humans are going to change in a fundamental way and their calendars would be superfluous? Maybe it was beyond their understanding at that time to consider whether humans would still be around this long!

But don’t mistake my skepticism for disbelief, either. Anyone who is even vaguely aware of what is beyond their 5 senses realizes that something odd has been brewing for the past few decades. Like a pot of water ready to boil, there’s something afoot on a spiritual and psychic level. I don’t know what it is precisely, but I do listen to theories and speculation – everything is within the bounds of possibility.

I sincerely hope the changes which do come are positive – but that result is wholly dependent on how mature we as a civilization are. We as a society need a good kick in the pants – ethically, socially and spiritually. Continuing in our current way is not going to help us as a whole. But as of right now I don’t think that some of the cataclysmic earth changes are going to happen in the way some people fear it will. What I’d love to see is a moment of spiritual enlightenment for the peoples of this planet, which might mean an end to wars & strife. Maybe that’s my overactive idealistic side rearing its ugly head. Either way, I’m excited to think about the possibilities and to see how this will manifest. So many civilizations have pointed to this time when something significant will manifest – it can’t be coincidence, can it?

I’m sure I’ll be tackling this subject again in the next two years, but I think I’ll still be saying “see you all in 2013”!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Male Witches or “Are you a Warlock?”

Oftentimes I meet people who aren’t sure how to approach this Wicca, Witchcraft, paganism, and Witches thing, other than what they see on television or through folklore and stories. Most of the time, I look at it as an opportunity to educate cowens (non-pagans) about what it is we do. Last year, I attended a pagan wedding which – because it was held on Samhain – attracted the attention of a large local newspaper. The print and photojournalists were really nice folks who seemed genuinely interested in our world and were very respectful and kind of our beliefs. How refreshing!

The journalist I spoke with wanted to know what the protocol and etiquette was of using the word “Warlock” to identify a male Witch, innocently of course. Couldn’t blame her for asking, since we’ve all been taught since we were little babes that a guy who practices magick was a Warlock. It got me to thinking, as I spent a few moments clarifying why that term is not widely used in the pagan community.

According to Wikipedia, the commonly accepted etymology derives Warlock from the Old English wǣrloga meaning "oathbreaker" or "deceiver". It is considered in polite Witchy society to be a bit of an insult, and those who choose to call themselves are looked at a bit askance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still used in pagandom, but usually by Luciferians, Satanists or simply uneducated Wiccans who are looking for a bit of a shock value.

It is said that during the period we pagans refer to as “The Burning Times” – what historians refer to as the Inquisition – Warlocks were those who would trade information for safety. They would happily divulge names, times & places of worship and real or made up details to keep the Inquisitors neck deep in Witches to torture, under the guise of God’s Grace. Today, we Witches still use the term “Warlock” as both a noun AND a verb. A Warlock refers to a person who has broken their oaths and has betrayed their coven and/or Tradition. It also refers to the act of the formal banishment of that individual from his or her coven or Tradition. If you hear of someone having been “Warlocked” from their tradition or group, it usually means they have been deemed an oathbreaker by a Council of Elders (or a similar tribunal) and it’s a hint and a half that this person has some significant baggage. I don’t know of many Witches who traffic with Warlocks. Certainly I don’t have high opinions of those who have been Warlocked, and give a wide berth to those who freely call themselves that.

Warlocks do exist but not in the definition of the mainstream. I’ve heard of pagans new to the Craft, especially males, who choose to refer to themselves as Warlocks. Some of these folks change their self-affixed labels when they are educated about the etymology of the word and the baggage behind it, but some hold onto this label. I’ve tried to be openminded about this, and understand that my way is not the only way to practice. Maybe the word “Warlock” is a name male Witches want to reclaim as their own. If that is the case, I think it would be a herculean task to change perceptions both within and without the pagan community.

Maybe this begs the question – do we as a pagan community need to come up with a word which describes a male Witch? Witch – as a word – often connotes a female, most likely through lore and common (mis)beliefs of the past centuries. While I like names to be gender neutral, it seems to me that our pagan men may feel like they are getting lost in a rather gynocentric religion. The desire to affix a label or moniker to separate themselves from the women of the Craft suggests that men wish to maintain their masculinity. I think it’s not a bad idea to consider. Unfortunately, the term “Warlock” in its current definition does not apply to 99.9% of male Witches in the Craft.

In Witchcraft today, a guy who is a Witch is just that – a male Witch. An argument can be made to simply use one name all the way around. A Witch is a Witch is a Witch. Male, female; straight, gay, bisexual, transgender; carnivore, vegan; what other labels you choose for yourself is your own business. Being a Witch is not about what plumbing you have, or what you prefer in this life. It is about identifying yourself with this particular belief system. The Gods don’t care very much about your gender. Come to think of it, they could care less about labels either!

So, I continue to tell people who ask that when they refer to a make Witch, they should simply say “Witch” or “Wiccan” if that is appropriate. Until such time when the term Warlock has better connotations within our own community, I think I’ll continue using the term Warlock as I was taught.

And what of that news story? The journalist didn’t call anyone a Warlock. Mission accomplished!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

What’s so Important about a Lineage, anyways?

A lineage is a complicated thing. In anthropology it is a descent group that can demonstrate a connection or evolution from a common ancestor. In evolution, one’s lineage connects us to our relations from a common forebear. In Buddhism, lineage is the line of transmission of Buddhist teachers. In martial arts, a lineage is a line of teachers within a particular discipline. But in Traditional Wicca / Witchcraft, a Lineage is a direct line of power within a Tradition. This line of power is passed at one’s Initiation.

Initiation means “to start”. That’s what it is…no matter how much you’ve learned, studied, experienced, your Initiation is the beginning of a new spiritual life. On my own Initiation night, my High Priest said to me, “Now your training really starts.” Much as it chagrins me to say it, he was right.

When a person is Initiated in Traditional Witchcraft, it is more than a ritual recognizing that they’ve put in a certain amount of time or have completed the Tradition’s curriculum. An Initiation shows that a person has demonstrated mastery of the concepts of the Tradition – on an academic and practical level – which shows that they are now ready to connect to the Tradition group mind/soul. The Initiator passes on that Power to the Initiate.

In Traditional Witchcraft, your Lineage is sacred. It details the unbroken line that your Tradition had from its founder to you, and then to those you’ve Initiated in turn. In it, you see the evolution of your Tradition and how you and your Tradition have grown throughout the years.

This is not only seen in Traditional Witchcraft, although you will see it more often than not in that dynamic. Eclectic Witchcraft/Wicca can have their own type of lineage, where they connect the group Egregore to their members. The individual then takes part in the creation, development and maintenance of that Egregore. What’s an Egregore? Well, it’s an occult term which represents a thoughtform or collective group mind – it is the entity of a coven, Tradition, or other type of magickal working group which is greater than the sum of its parts. An Egregore is why each coven/Tradition/working group has a “personality” apart from any of the participants, including the leaders.

Sometimes people don’t understand this need for a Lineage. Non-Traditionalists might misconstrue our need for Lineage as a way for Traditionalists to show off or exhibit elitism. But it is very important, and vital to the growth and survival of pagan Traditions.

So, why is a lineage so important to Traditionalists?

Traditions can consist of dozens of covens strewn all around the world, with thousands of members. Not all of us know every person in our Tradition. For us, a Lineage assures that the person who is claiming to be part of our Egregore is who they say they are. If they have a verifiable lineage, we can know who is responsible for their teaching and know what they’ve been taught and by whom. It’s a way for us to vouch whether a person is for real or just making up claims which are untrue.

Lineages are also a way for us to make sure that our Initiates are acting in accordance to their Initiatory oaths – if they are acting in a prohibited fashion, we have a way to make sure that their upline is aware of it and can take the steps necessary to make things right. This is very true of Oathbound Traditions – Traditions who have sacred/secret information that they reserve for those within their Tradition – and to keep that information from falling into hands who have not earned the right to know.

Traditionalists require Lineages because it helps us obtain vouches from a person’s upline. A vouch is someone who will verify that a person is in good standing in the Tradition. For example, if I say I’m Lady Silkysoft of the FloofyPoof Tradition, and I was initiated by Lord Pomegranate Bronzescramble, you can go to him and verify if I’m legit or not. This can be important to retain Tradition integrity, especially if Lord Pomegranate says, “OMG she’s a flake and we kicked her out of the coven 3 months after joining because she was so disruptive!”. You can bet that other Elders will not be sharing anything with me!

Lineages are also important because they show a family tree and the history of your tradition. They allow others of the Tradition to have a better idea of the type or focus of training and experience a person has had – for example, if you know that Lord Pomegranate was a dedicated herbalist and worked strongly with Poseidon, you’ll know that his Initiates will probably be well versed in herbalism and have a better understanding of Poseidon than others might. It’s also a way to identify oneself within a Tradition. They might not know me, but they might know Lord Pomegranate and say, “Oh, you’re one of Bronzescramble’s family? Well, you’re welcome to come and circle with us tonight!”

One’s Lineage should never be used to belittle others or brag. In fact, most Traditionalists rarely recite their Lineage outside their own Traditional boundaries because it doesn’t matter if I’m downline from Lord Pomegranate if you don’t know who he is! But it also isn’t a tool that Traditionalists use in order to set ourselves apart or be elitist with. Most of all, a Lineage isn’t as nefarious as some people might want to believe.

Have Athame, Will Travel – Making a Traveling Witch Kit

Most pagans have a set of ritual tools and articles they keep in their home, whether under their altar, in a closet or in a special room dedicated for magickal/religious use. But sometimes we are witches on the move. There’s something beautiful about finding yourself in a secluded patch of woods and being inspired to commune with the Gods. It’s not unusual for a few pagans to get together, and a ritual breaks out – wouldn’t it be nice to have a secondary, portable set on hand to augment your impromptu ritual or spellwork?

Now, I am the first person to say that the most important tool a pagan has is located between his/her ears. Your mind is all you need to connect to Spirit and have a positive and strong ritual. In fact, I teach my own students that they should be able to conduct a ritual without their tools first, and then they can bring in their fancy shmancy stuff. A pagan should be comfortable with casting Circle with their mind and finger to direct the energy…tools are helpful, but they’re not necessary. But…we are human, and as humans we have a tendency to want things to make our sacred rituals that much more special to us.

Many pagans have a Traveling Witch Kit, a portable set of magickal tools they keep in their car or in a separate tote/suitcase. Pagans use these Traveling Witch Kits when they go camping or hiking, attend pagan festivals or simply as an impromptu set if Spirit moves them. This can also be your main supply kit if you’re concerned about space (such as a dorm or apartment environment). It also makes a beautiful Yule, Birthday or Wiccaning gift for your pagan friends!

What is a Traveling Witch Kit? Well, it obviously consists of items which you use in sacred space and/or in Circle. What you put into it is up to you – you can make it as comprehensive or as minimalistic as you wish. The most important thing is that it is portable; some people have Witch Kits which can fit in a purse, and some are a little larger. You can use a basket, tote, wooden box, a plastic bin, or even use an extra ritual robe to wrap the whole caboodle up in. Think about when you will use this kit and that should determine how large or small you need to make it.

Remember that all the tools you put in this Traveling Witch Kit will be used in sacred space – therefore your tools should be consecrated and treated with the same amount of honor and dignity as you give any of your other magickal tools. When I talk about consecration, what that means is to formally make an item sacred to be used the presence of the Gods. Some people do this through smudging the items with incense (traditionally sage), or with oils (though you have to be careful about what you’re anointing with oil so you don’t muss it up). You can also consecrate your items with energy work or through a formal ritual.

It’s not hard to find small versions of what needs to be in your kit – thrift stores, small items in your home, yard sales are all good resources to find items. Certainly you can put whatever you want into your own Traveling Witch Kit, but some of the most common items you will want in your kit are:

clip_image001 Athame (this can be a letter opener or small knife)

clip_image001[1] Boline (penknife, or other small blade)

clip_image001[2] Pentacle

clip_image001[3] Four small quarter candles – tealights or votives are best (blue, green, red and yellow for each of the elements/directions)

clip_image001[4] God & Goddess candles – tealights or votives (silver & gold if you can find them, but whatever colors you associate with the God and Goddess are appropriate)

clip_image001[5] Cone incense & holder

clip_image001[6] Lighter (I always forget this one)

clip_image001[7] Small bowls for salt & water – don’t forget a small jar of sea salt!

clip_image001[8] Altar cloth (a nice sarong or silk bandana works great)

Of course you can also put in some optional items if you feel the need:

clip_image001[9] Sash for yourself (instead of a robe, put it over your clothes to denote your sacred persona)

clip_image001[10] Jewelry

clip_image001[11] Bottled water – in case you might not have water handy, or in case chanting makes you thirsty!

clip_image001[12] Divination tools (small Tarot decks, pendulums, runes, crystal balls, Ogham, etc.)

clip_image001[13] Special sacred items like feathers, stones, crystals, decorations

clip_image001[14] Herbs that you might use in Circle

clip_image001[15] Small bottle of wine and crackers for cakes & ale.

That’s it! You really can put in anything you feel is important to you in ritual, but those are just a few ideas for making your own Witch Kit. You can always make your own tools and add them, or find the appropriate tools while you’re there, making an ad hoc ritual. It’s all up to you!

I would like to note that Athames can be a tricky thing, especially if you are traveling along checkpoints, attending pagan gatherings with strict prohibitions or have checked luggage. I’d suggest finding a suitable substitute for an Athame (a wand, perhaps). As benign as our Athames are, it’s a big pain in the keister to have to explain our ritual tools to Joe LawEnforcement.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Switching Roles

I do a lot of teaching – whether I’m teaching Tarot, Divination, Wicca a la Carte, or even topics in Information Technology. I spend much of my time in front of people teaching them what I know. To me it is a way of giving back to the community and to repay Spirit for the some of the blessings I’ve received over the years.

There are times, however, when I want to be the student again and to learn new things. I enjoy that – the excitement of adding to my repertoire, of experiencing things through the eyes of someone else. So, I’m embarking on a new journey of discovery. My most recent subject to tackle: the Runes. I’ve been interested in them for years, but have never had the time or opportunity to sit down and really get to know them. Maybe I am drawn to them via my own Germanic biological lineage, and maybe it’s just because I’m a divination junkie. Either way, I’ve managed to convince a local heathen (read: a practitioner of the Norse religion) who I trust that I am a worthy student to teach, and he’s generously agreed to teach me.

For disclosure’s sake, I’m not completely unfamiliar with the runes – I have done self study on them before. But I have never had any sort of formal training by a practitioner who incorporates this tool into their spiritual practice. I am very excited!

At first it was strange to prepare myself to be on the other side of the teacher/student dynamic. I am so used to preparing for my class, having handouts, being well versed in the subject. This time, I just have to show up – what a treat! Ok, that’s not entirely true. I’ve already started pre-studying. I’ve gotten about 15 pages of hand written notes in my rune notebook to familiarize myself with the tool some more.

I am really looking forward to this new period of learning and adding this tool to my divinatory cache. I want to be more than simply acquainted with the runes, but become proficient with them as well. Perhaps even so much as to be able to incorporate them into my Tarot readings!

Well, here’s to happy learnings!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tarot Cards & Oracle Cards

Throughout the past 30+ years of teaching and reading Tarot, I’ve been blessed to have met so many people who have an appreciation and love for the cards. In all that time, however, one topic seems to be the most common source of confusion – Oracle cards versus Tarot cards. New readers find it difficult to choose which system to choose. They want to know which one is better, or why there are different types of cards. Understandably, Tarot and Oracle cards are often found in the same area of most establishments that sell them which further suggests that they’re similar.

Let me first say this: neither type of divination is better or worse than the other. They might both be printed on cards and used similarly (shuffle and lay them out on a flat surface), but they are two different styles of divination. I use both Tarot cards AND Oracle cards, and they each have their place in my divinatory life. I’m sure once you recognize the differences you too will keep both in your divination toolbox and love them as much as I do.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the difference between Tarot cards and Oracle cards boils down to two fundamental factors: structure & purpose.

Understanding the structure of the Tarot and an Oracle deck is important, and you will see some important differences. The traditional Tarot deck consists of 78 cards in total, and it is broken up into the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana are 22 cards of higher wisdom, numbered in ordinal fashion from zero (The Fool) to 21 (The World). These cards are often categorized by a roman numeral and a title, such as XIV Temperance, XII The Hanged Man, and VIII Strength. The Major Arcana are cards of higher / karmic wisdom. They point to the big issues in our lives. The other 56 cards in the Tarot are considered the Minor Arcana – the Minors tend to be more about details within a reading. The Minor Arcana has 4 suits (Cups, Wands/Rods, Pentacles/Coins, Swords/Staves). Each suit consists of cards numbered Ace through 10, and has 4 court cards (King, Queen, Knight, Page).

The Oracle cards are a little less structured. There can be as many or as few as the author intends. I’ve seen as many as 90 cards, and as few as 10. Oracle decks often follow a theme, whether it is about Fairies, cultural systems, shamanic practice, animals, Gods/Goddesses, angels, or affirmation/self-help.

The purpose of each style of divination is important in choosing which one to use. Unless you choose to use the Major Arcana only, the Tarot tends to give much more detail and less spiritual/karmic/life lesson information in the reading. This can be useful when you want specifics on a particular situation. The symbolism in the Tarot is also important, as particular colors, items and numbers are part of the meaning of each card. Oracle cards, on the other hand, are like a big ol’ deck of Major Arcana – they are all about life lessons and abstract ideas. They require less interpretation and are very straightforward. The symbology tends to be less vague, which sometimes makes it easier for the reader to decipher.

Again, one type of deck is not better than the other, they are simply different. To say that Tarot decks and Oracle decks are identical is like saying that an amethyst crystal is the same as a lapis lazuli stone. Sure, to the untrained eye, they’re both physically rocks. However if you look at them structurally through a microscope, you will find that they are composed different and energetically they are VERY different! Still, you can use each stone in your spiritual practice, both for energy work and for spellwork. Neither is better or worse than the other, but they are suited for different things.

So, when do you use a Tarot deck and when do you pull out your Oracle cards? Personally, I rely upon the situation and the person I’m reading for to determine which kind of deck to use. Remember that Oracle cards are good for big ideas, and give you a 30,000 foot bird’s-eye view of things, and Tarot cards can get very granular in scope. Where Oracle cards can be very “big picture”, Tarot can help you tease out details and specifics. Who and what are you reading for? Is it a topic that deals more with the mundane or is it a deeply spiritual reading? Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which tool is right for what you need to do.

The best way to learn more about the tools so you can choose the best method for the situation at hand is to work with the cards – both kinds. Practice with them; use them on yourself and your friends. See what kinds of messages they give you and how your intuition responds to each system. You can take different situations / people and do both Tarot and Oracle readings – see how each deck speaks to you about the situation. Note your own feelings and what you feel is more appropriate.

Again, there is no system that is better or worse than the other. But a good reader understands his or her tools and uses the best tool for them based on their needs. Don’t shy away from the Tarot or Oracle cards because of misinformation. They are both lovely systems that can be the perfect tool!