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!