God in Every Man, Goddess in Every Woman

One of the very first assignments we give to students who are studying with us is the “God in Every Man, Goddess in Every Woman” assignment. It’s a way for students to start learning about the Gods and to make them aware that the divine is in and around us all the time. We tell students to take a person in their lives and compare them to a God or Goddess. We ask the student to tell us about the God or Goddess and then explain how the person shares similar characteristics or qualities with that God or Goddess. By looking at the people around us and seeing how they share characteristics with the divine, it becomes much easier to recognize that divinity within us as well.

One of my students gave us her first entry today and I thought it was extremely well done and very well thought out. I thought I would share it here (with the student’s permission). It certainly made me think and I think it will make you think too!

Athena

(My Beloved Sister) and Athena (The Virgin Goddess of Wisdom, Courage, Strategy and Warfare)

According to myth, Zeus was so fearful of the conception of the child that had been prophesied to be even more powerful than Zeus himself (king of the gods and ruler of the universe), that he tricked the mother, Metis (cunning, wisdom and prudence) into becoming a fly and then swallowed her. He was too late, and Athena grew inside him while Metis forged her a suit of armor. The hammering caused him great discomfort that eventually culminated in a massive headache. When an axe was used to split open his head (presumably in an effort to relieve the headache), Athena sprung from his head fully grown and armed. Instead of his rival, however, she soon became Zeus’s favorite child, and was even entrusted to yield the power of his lightening bolt. In contrast to Ares, the god of war, violence, and bloodshed, Athena is associated with the strategy, valor and generalship of warfare and is accompanied by Nike, goddess of victory. She is a virgin goddess, but is loved and revered by the Athenians who look to her as the patroness and guardian of their city.

My sister* is strong, intelligent, and fiercely independent. She is righteous and responsible in her actions, holding herself and those under her care/authority to the highest standard. Though she may appear cold and objective in her relationships, she is exceptionally generous, protective and loyal. She has a brilliant mind with a natural aptitude for math and science, and her impressive education has made her a force to be reckoned with.

Well beyond her years in wisdom and maturity, her competence and understanding levels have consistently surpassed expectations since early childhood. In many ways, it was like my sister was born fully grown and armed. She was able to demonstrate levels of judgement, reason and responsibility you can’t expect from most adult men before she reached puberty. Though to a certain extent, I believe that her maturity and armored personality are a result of early influences and circumstances, her strength and intelligence are unique, and not everyone could have adapted and excelled with such grace.

It is fitting to compare my sister to a virgin goddess, especially one who is most often depicted wearing a suit of armor. Growing up, she always emphasized the importance of modesty, and even still, she is constantly telling me to be more careful in concealing the things that make me vulnerable to others who could hurt me. Even as a newborn, Athena is never naked. My sister is a virgin in the sense that she is untouched and unknown to pretty much everyone, even me at this point. She is unexposed. And though I know there are scars beneath that armor, she is protected, whole and unbroken.

Our father taught us that the knowledge and wisdom from great books are like armor. He used that analogy too. He said he wasn’t exposed to books like The Art of War and The Prince and Atlas Shrugged until he was in college, and that when he discovered them, it was like building a suit of armor. He was finally able to understand the world around him, protect himself, and succeed. In an effort to arm us, and give his own children the head-start that he believed would have spared him so much struggle and pain, he gave us these books, and many more, all before we started high school.

I was a disappointment on this front. I was not able to appreciate the brilliance of Machiavelli and Ayn Rand at the age of 13. And you know, I don’t beat myself up for that, I don’t think most people can. Those things started clicking much later for me, and like mythology, many things still are sinking in at the right time for me. I tend to think my father wouldn’t have been so shocked and disappointed by my reading and comprehension level if it hadn’t been for my freak of a sister who came before me (just kidding, she is a goddess…).

My sister not only read the books he gave her, but sought out the writing of every great philosopher, poet, novelist that he ever quoted (which pretty much makes up most of our dialogue). What’s more, she actually understood them and could have intelligent conversations about them as a preteen. I attend a liberal arts university and I can honestly say that my sister was more well-read as a 16-year-old than any college student I know.

And yet, even though at times I could almost believe that she literally sprung from his head as his mental conception of the perfect child, the two of them have spent countless nights fighting until dawn. Her persistence, intelligence and strategic approach have definitely provided him with a worthy sparring partner. The appreciation and mastery of the art of argument and war that he has always respected and encouraged in her has also lead, I’m sure, to some excruciating headaches (I know they have for me).

Like Athena, however, my sister’s strength and intelligence have made her the favorite. Her loyalty and hard work have earned her his favor and trust, and just as Zeus empowered Athena to share in the power of his lightening bolt, our father has gifted and entrusted my sister with power and opportunity known to very few. Though a great weapon and power in itself, it is only in addition to the already impressive force that she is on her own. The mere force of her will has been enough to defeat even her most formidable opponents in battle. If, however, there is ever a time when this is no longer true, she is equipped with the gifts and support of a very powerful ally.

While her spirit is confident and unflinching, she remains unassuming and heedful of the constant flux of threats and opportunities around her. There is a simultaneously intoxicating and sobering quality to her determination that should not be taken lightly. She is never unarmed, and she is never unprepared. She is strategic and offensive in her
interactions with the outside world, and others look to her as a leader, guide and guardian.

She is courageous and unrelenting in her endeavors, and her achievements are both grand and well-deserved. She is wise, skilled, accomplished and respected in her field, and as with Athena, victory is at her side.

*Name ommitted to protect the innocent 🙂

Medean Cat

The search for Wiccan Pussy has really ramped up lately! It seems like everyday I get more than just a few keyword search hits for Wiccan Pussy. I guess Bansidhe was just too irresistible the last time I posted her picture. And so…here’s what you all seem to be looking for!

I mean, I know the Bansidhe is awesome and all, but seriously guys…she really hates having her photo taken.

 

 

The Service of Invocation

This is from Witches and Pagans and was originally published on the 24th of May, 2013:

 

Invocation is one of the penultimate acts that a Priest or Priestess can perform, for themselves or in a group ritual.

This ritual is one of the things that separate us from other religions. In some ways, it is the most important act that we do for our covens. Through our priests and priestesses, coveners can speak directly to our deities.

And it seems to be an element that is disappearing from many modern Pagan rituals, or is being replaced by the reciting of the Charge of the Goddess or another sacred text. (This is not to say that in and of itself this is not a powerful thing, but it is not what traditional practice defines as invocation).

Invocation is one of the true “mysteries.” Learning to invoke or “Draw Down the Moon/Sun” is not something that the raw beginner should ever attempt. Inviting a deity to use you as a vessel to speak though is an extremely serious matter. A great deal of traditional training is about working someone up to the point where invocation can be done safely, and the practitioner can manage to come back from it without consequence.

Full on invocation is akin to a spiritual possession. When channeling deity, you are not the one in charge. In Voodoo, they say that you are “ridden,” and I think this is the best description of what happens when you invoke fully.

When my partner invokes, his eyes change color, he smells different, he moves differently and the “person” looking out at me through him is definitely no longer the same one that was there before. It’s scary, it’s comforting, it makes me want to laugh and yet weep hysterically at the same time. I never know whether I should throw my arms around him or prostrate myself on the ground. I’ve been given riddles, words of encouragement and full on lectures during these moments. Sometimes it lasts for a long time, sometimes for mere seconds. Sometimes the God looks out at me, winks and then leaves again.

Many people have told me that the things that occur when deity is invoked have been some of the most important and life changing spiritual moments they’ve ever experienced.

Anyone who tries to convince you that invocation is not a serious act is selling something. Even those people I know for whom invocation has come easily have always stressed the importance of understanding that you are channeling deity and that “you” are no longer at home.

Over at Patheos Pagan, Sable Aradia wrote a column titled “Seekers and Guides: A Balm for a Pagan Plague – High Priestess’ Disease (Part 1)”, where she talks about some of the same issues that I brought up in my last blog here at Pagan Square. Sable Aradia is discussing “the spiritual malaise that causes some of us to develop an inflated sense of our importance and “power trip” on being a Wiccan Priest(ess)”. She discusses the fact that the Craft gives people who have considered themselves to be without power a place to wield power. She also discusses that these Ego trips can be tied back into the work we do in the Craft, specifically invocation, stating:

Wicca is a mystic’s path. Ultimately, its greatest mystery is union with the Divine; what we call “Drawing Down the Moon” and “Drawing Down the Sun.” In order to achieve that, we must break down the dross of our personalities. Not all of our personality, just the stuff that interferes with our ability to channel our Divine Selves. Think of it as a refining process. We are trying to become better conductors. Pure gold is the best conductor for electricity, and pure copper follows that, but elements are rarely pure in nature and so they must be melted, tempered, and beaten in order to reach that state of purity. We are no different; and frankly, the process hurts and we resist. However, the more we resist, the greater the pain. Someone who is suffering from High Priestess’ Disease is having their ego challenged and they are resisting alchemical transformation of the spirit. That is why Wicca demands that we choose this path of our own free will.

While Sable Aradia’s point about Ego trips and Priest/ess power trips is certainly a valid one (and I agree with all of the other points she brings up), I disagree somewhat with this assessment of invocation. For me, invocation is completely giving up my “self” and retreating to the deepest reaches. It is staying behind, while She moves forward. It is not a matter of resisting; it is a matter of knowing how to stay still. There is no room or place for Ego in that moment. In some ways, I have to understand my boundaries even more clearly than before, so that I can stay as far back within them as I can to let Her take my place in my physical self. This is not a breakdown of my “self;” it is in some ways the ultimate definition of self. I have to understand myself to pull everything I am back, and leave it behind while She decides to use my physical form for Her voice. It is not something for me to resist, it is something for me to consent to. It is not pain, it is joy.

This is not a challenge to my ego, it is a complete override of my ego. After each experience, I am overwhelmed that She has been present within my lowly, physical being and I feel humbled at the honor of Her presence.

I see these issues with ego in regards to both sides of invocation as coming from the lives we lead outside of the Craft, not the actions we work within it. In learning how to invoke, I have learned an even greater respect for those Priests and Priestesses who have gone before me. As a Priestess, my ego needs to be left at the door. When I took on that role, I left my right to my ego behind. I serve a greater purpose for both myself and for others. When invoking, I am not looking for respect or power, I am looking to be a vessel to serve my group. She is not asking me to break myself apart, but simply that I step back and let Her through.

Invocation is a service that I give of myself. It is something that should never be demanded of someone or be used to judge the “power” of someone’s priest or priestesshood. Every time someone invokes, there is that small possibility that they won’t come back from the experience. It is, in some ways, the ultimate sacrifice. Anyone who sees invocation as a place to claim ego has missed the point entirely. This issue of ego is not found through the personal refining processes of the Great Work, it is something that hasn’t yet been discarded in this person’s transition from mundane life to Priestesshood.

Yes, respect the person who is invoking. Support them when they need a moment to recover, and recognize the service they are giving, but more importantly, listen to the presence that has come through them and take away from it that sense of wonder that can be found in coming face to face with the divine. Invocation is powerful, but not because of the Priest or Priestess doing it. It is powerful because of what it manifests, and that we get to have for a the barest sliver of a moment the center of that focus.

Wicca and Personal Gnosis

One of the most important parts of a  traditional Wiccan training is to teach a seeker how to talk to the Gods on their own, with no intervention of a Priest or Priestess. While the job of a Priest or Priestess is certainly about assisting people in communication with their Gods, any initiate of a Wiccan tradition should be taught how to be able to do this on their own. In my tradition, a great deal of the work and training I do goes towards being able to talk to my Gods directly. I always hate it when I see people complaining about Wicca because “who needs a Priest or Priestess to speak to their Gods for them, isn’t that what Christianity does?” These people clearly don’t understand that the whole point of this process is to put you, the individual, in a position where you can communicate with the Divine. A great deal of the training you receive in a BTW coven deals with how you can talk to the gods directly, on your own: with the knowledge of how to do the work to create a relationship with the Gods and how to do it safely so that you don’t burn yourself out, get stuck, or burn your house or your neighbor’s house down. Speaking to the Gods directly can go really, really wrong if not done properly. Look at the myth of Semele, the mother of Dionysus. Hera tricked her into making Zeus show himself to her in all of his true divinity. She was pretty much obliterated on the spot. There are a lot of stories like this out there. We have learned, through the ages, and a great deal of trial and error, that there are better and worse ways to speak to the Gods, and that it is usually wise to be careful about these sorts of things.

semeleWe do traditional invocation in my coven, which is where a Priest or Priestess gives their body and voice up to their God or Goddess so that that Gods can speak directly through us. We don’t simply do an elaborate reading the Charge of the Goddess or some other reading in Circle; our Gods inhabit us. There is a great deal of training that goes into that as well as the knowledge that this is inherently dangerous to the one who is invoking.  We speak directly to the Gods. When my partner invokes, he doesn’t remember what he’s said or what he’s done, he isn’t there any longer. When I invoke, I go so far into myself, all I see is Her. My physical presence is no longer there, my body is no longer a consideration, what is going on in Circle is no longer important for me to be aware of. I am held entirely by Her presence in me.

So, with all of this talking directly to the Gods, as one might expect, there is a great deal of unverified personal gnosis involved. The tradition itself has it’s own personal gnosis and stories about experiences with the Gods, and each individual Priest or Priestess has their own personal gnosis that they bring to their covens and their teachings. These are part of the things that my tradition would offer you: other traditions inevitably have their own personal gnosis in regards to the Gods as well. Different paths treat personal gnosis differently. This is a part of the body of work that any tradition would offer to teach you. This is why it is also generally important to take the Gods that a tradition or coven works with into consideration when you are considering joining that group. If that tradition doesn’t work with the Gods and Goddesses that you do, it probably isn’t the right tradition for you.

Personal gnosis is something that differentiates modern polytheism from the polytheism of the ancients. It is something that proves that our Gods and our mythology are an ever living, ever evolving religion. As a modern practitioner, the experiences I have of my Gods aren’t stuck in the past. My own personal experiences move my tradition forward for the next generation of practitioners. We are constantly adding to the traditions we practice.

But, and I think this is the important part, your own personal gnosis doesn’t just simply wipe away the body of everything that has come before.

As a Priestess, it is my job to be a repository of all of the traditional myths and legends of my particular Gods. Before I worked to invoke for myself, I was responsible for learning those myths and learning how to interpret and discuss those myths. Just because we end up with our own personal gnosis does not mean that we get to ignore the creation myths and the early stories of our Gods. Our personal gnosis doesn’t negate those principle teachings.

Part of understanding those early stories is understanding the cultures and the history that created them. It’s in looking at how we know those myths: the Greeks and Romans wrote them down directly for us to read in the original today; the Celts had their mythology translated by Christian monks who either deliberately altered them, or simply didn’t understand that these were myths about the Gods. (Look at the translations of the Mabinogion…we know that these are stories of the Gods, whereas the monks who translated them, changed them into stories of normal humans who do some magical things). How does this change our perspective on these myths and how we interpret them?

Reading, learning and understanding mythology is a lifelong task. Add personal gnosis to the mix and we can begin to see why traditions don’t just die out. Personal gnosis keeps us continually on our toes when it comes to our religious paths.

But I also think it’s important to remember where myths and legends of our Gods came from in the first place. Your personal gnosis is relevant to you, but maybe not to the person who works elsewhere with the same God or Goddess. Elani Temperance summed this issue up beautifully over at Pagan Square. She said:

One of my major struggles with UPG [Unverified Personal Gnosis] is that the mere mention of it often seems to cut short any form of discussion about the subject or, and I find this more worrying, UPG gets used to prove a standpoint. The problem with UPG is that it, by its very nature and definition, can’t be verified. It can therefor never be used to give credit to or discredit a viewpoint or hypothesis. I can’t rightfully say: ‘Athena’s eyes are blue’. What I can say is ‘I believe Athena’s eyes are blue’.

Personal gnosis is important in anyone’s personal path with deity. Some of my most important moments have been through personal gnosis. But my personal gnosis is very small in the face of the wider body of work around my Goddess and God. As a priestess (or priest) I think it’s important to remember that.

Dear Bust

My partner and I are avid Bust readers. Bust says that it is a magazine “With an attitude that is fierce, funny, and proud to be female, BUST provides an uncensored view on the female experience. BUST tells the truth about women’s lives and presents a female perspective on pop culture. BUSTing stereotypes about women since 1993″.

Bust comes out once ever two months, so I usually leisurely peruse through the magazine. Tonight I picked up the latest issue, the October/November 2013 issue and came across an article titled “A Broom of One’s Own”, an article about “tales from two months immersed in a world of witchcraft. By Callie Watts“.

I was pretty upset by it and actually sent them an email. Unfortunately, the article is only available to subscribers, so look for it in bookstores if you want to read it, but my response is below. I think the author showed an extreme lack of respect to anyone who is dedicated to actually learning the Craft. I was shocked by the lack of sensitivity showed towards a very female empowering religion in a magazine that prides itself on addressing women’s issues.  (Yes, I’m totally that person).

Dear Bust,

For the very first time I was extremely upset by one of your articles! I was surprised by the lack of thought in the article “A Broom of One’s Own” in your Oct/Nov 2013 issue.

As a Wiccan priestess, I was dismayed by the lack of respect Callie Watts gave my religion. The idea that came across was “Oh, Wicca is so cool and easy, why wouldn’t anyone do it?!!!”.

Wicca is a path of hard work and intense study.

Watts sums Wicca up with “Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede, which basically dictates that you can do whatever magic you want, as long as you don’t harm anyone”. The Rede is a more complex piece that involves a great deal more than that. This misunderstanding shows lack of research and implies that Wicca is a new age religion, rather than a syncretic, codified religion that takes hard work and years of study.

Watts gives many incorrect definitions as well. (A Book of Shadows is not a personal diary, it is the combination of all the work that has been passed down initiate to initiate, coven to coven over years) and showed how lightly she was taking everything she was doing.

She also ignores the fact that many are still persecuted for being practitioners and that many are still afraid to “come out of the broom closet”. These are not issues to be taken lightly and for young women who are seeking the Craft, reading a piece like this can have many long term negative consequences.

The Craft is an honorable path that should be approached with dedication to the Gods, magic, ritual, herbology, mythology, history, sacred art and environmentalism. Making light of the hard work those of us involved in the Craft do, is an insult to a community of devoted spiritual workers.

I expect better of a magazine devoted to women’s issues. Wicca is a religion of strong, empowered women (and men) who understand their abilities and duties. Making light of this path does not gives the proper message to young women about the importance of acknowledging spiritual responsibility and the role that they could play within it.

Sincerely,

Ect, Ect…

Good Press, Bad Press

Sometimes I am torn between keeping silent, and speaking my mind. I have decided in this case to speak out.

The last few days have seen an article called Lessons in Modern Witchcraft, Minus the Broom circulating around the Internet, touted as an example of good press for Wicca. (Let us put the emphasis on the fact that this school is claiming in the article to teach Wicca and not Neo-Paganism or any other Pagan path).

When I first started blogging I wrote another blog about this same school of witchcraft in New York. Now, after studying Wicca for over a year and earning my own initiation, I would like to reiterate my thoughts.

I find the idea of charging money to students whom you plan to eventually initiate absolutely abhorrent. I feel even more strongly about this than I did a year ago.

Teaching a basic Wicca 101 class at a festival, Pagan store or public event? Then yes, the teacher has every right to charge for the teaching. In this scenario, someone is performing a one time service, sort of like performing a wedding or a funeral, and (one assumes) no secret teachings will be shared. This is not a case where you are connected to the teacher, or they are charged with teaching you the mysteries of the Crafts. They have made no promises to you and you have made no promises to them. In this scenario, buyer beware.

Does the teacher need to rent space for the class or need materials? Then yes, again, it is appropriate to ask students to help chip in the money for these things. But there should be honest disclosure about those costs in the very beginning. When you first start talking to a teacher, these costs should immediately be a part of the conversation. There is no stigma to charging an honest, proportionate fee for rental of a space. (My partner and I teach out of our home. We invite students into our private space to avoid expenses like this).

But asking for money for the teaching itself? Charging students that you will be escorting through the mysteries of the various degrees of a tradition? No.

A lot of people like to argue that paying for teaching Wicca is like paying for a college class, as this article does. This is not like going to college, this is not like buying a service. This is someone who is going to bring you through the veil; this person should not be doing this based on a financial transaction. This student/teacher exchange has nothing to do with money.

In traditional Wicca, teachers do not charge to teach the Craft. Oaths are taken about this.

Anyone who is charging to teach traditional Wicca is selling something other than Wicca. And I think that this article proves some of this.

“Let’s begin,” said Arlene Fried, another instructor, who sat behind a folding table that had been transformed into an altar, complete with candles, a chalice, a black-handled knife and a tiny caldron.

“Which of you can tell me what that star around your neck is called?” Ms. Fried said.

“A pentacle,” Ms. Collins replied.

“And what is it for?” Ms. Fried asked.

“It gives us protection against anything negative or evil; it’s kind of like a cross for Christians,” Ms. Monzon said, staring into her notebook as she spoke. “The top of the star represents the spirit. Each of the other points represent an element: earth, air, fire and water.”

My pentacle has nothing to do with the Christian cross. My pentacle has nothing to do with negative or “evil” energy. The very idea of evil is not a Wiccan one. Why would I ever compare my pentacle to a Christian cross?

I am horrified all over again by this school.

According to their website, they even charge an annual fee and a monthly tithe once you belong to their “temple”.

I am slightly relieved after digging further into their website (which on the Home page is covered in the word Wicca), to find that they are not actually traditional Wiccans. They say that the temple, “at its core, teaches a practice based upon many traditions. This core tradition has been conceived by two eclectic witches, by harmonizing and synergistically blending time honored tradition(s) into practical modern based witchcraft.” But most of their web page (and the article) cries that they are teaching Wicca. I see this as false advertising and feel bad for anyone who is seeking actual Wicca.

If you are seeking a traditional Wiccan initiation, do your research. Talk to the teacher in question. Seek other members of your Pagan community out and ask about the teacher’s reputation. Once you are initiated, the person who initiated you is your reference, they are your lineage, they are your proof of having done the work and gone through the training. At that point, anyone may call them and ask them to vouch for your initiation. Any traditional Wiccan teacher will immediately tell you (if you are discussing becoming their student), who initiated them, and they will not charge to teach you the Craft. This also goes for sexual or other “favors”. Any teacher who wants something so mundane for passing the Craft on is someone should be avoided like the plague. While a great deal of the Pagan community these days does not see the value of initiation, this is an example of where that lineage is necessary.

I hate that “schools” like this are becoming the proof that Wiccans are mainstream. Teachers like this are unethical. And as a traditional Wiccan, I hate the idea of people associating me with a group like this.

May the Gods preserve the Craft. The true, oath-bound, difficult to earn Craft.

Cunt: The Reason for the Season

Cunt. C-U-N-T. CUNT! CUNT! CUNT!

Cunt, the forbidden word.

I love this word.

The other day, this word came up in a coven class and no one wanted to say it.

I, however, really wanted to break into this:

Since I have no acting talent, I was gracious enough not to hurt everyone’s ears, but…as someone in the third wave of feminism, I consider cunt to be more than simply a “reclaimed” word. It is a powerfully evocative word that just makes me shiver with glee.

As a witch, it has even more importance to me, and it all centers around Ostara.

You can track down various meanings and etymologies of the word cunt, but in this case, I like to look at it’s progression from the word ‘coney’ or hare.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says, “Alternative form cunny is attested from c.1720 but is certainly much earlier and forced a change in the pronunciation of coney (q.v.), but it was good for a pun while coney was still the common word for “rabbit”: “A pox upon your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers’ wives, ‘No money, no coney.’ ” [Philip Massinger: “The Virgin-Martyr,” Act I, Scene 1, 1622]”

Of course, if you weren’t familiar with coneys before, you were after this scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy:

Hares are one of the first animals to poke their noses out and start procreating during the earliest days of spring. Not only do they, well, “fuck like rabbits”, but if you look at a hare’s tail, it looks like a woman’s pubic hair.

This has been used as a symbol of the goddess Eostre to represent both the birth canal and her reproductive abilities. For centuries, many British folk customs have centered around the hare during the month of April. Many academics also tie the hare to Freya, who didn’t have hares pulling her chariot, but a pair of cats. What do we call our cats these days? Pussies of course! So…coney – cunny – cunt – pussy…!

And there you have it. CUNT! The reason for the season.

Now say it with me kids, “CUNT!”

And remember, the next time you call a woman a cunt, you’re calling her a queen. So maybe she does deserve it after all.

Before and After

My S.O. and a fellow Blue Star Priestess went on a mission while at PantheaCon Friday night (I was not there, but this was how it was told to me)-

My S.O.  (briskly, to strangers in the hallway on the 10th floor): Point us to the Thelemites!

Strangers (instantly and with hand gestures): Second door on the right.

My S.O. (to the Thelemites): We seek ritual tools! *Names three items needed*

Thelemites: Yes! (And the items were graciously and kindly given.)

And then, after all of the time and work and thought, I went through my Initiation, the culmination of a fifteen year journey.

I’m sure there will be a lot more to say later, but for now, I’m going to enjoy the moment. I’m going to just sit back and enjoy what I’ve accomplished, cause honestly, it feels pretty amazing. And the conference? What conference? I’ve done the thing that I came to San Jose to do.

(I can neither confirm nor deny that this is what happens!)

(I can neither confirm nor deny that this is what happens!)

Jeanne D’Arc Rides in New Orleans

Last night I went to one of the first parades of the New Orleans Mardi Gras season, the Krewe de Jeanne D’Arc Parade.

Joan of Arc is the patron saint of New Orleans; that should come as no surprise. She was the Maid of Orleans, after all. New Orleans is a very Catholic city, and St. Joan is one of my favorite parts of the Catholic mythos. Joan of Arc’s birthday is January 6th, which coincides with Twelfth Night; a very important night for any city that celebrates Carnival. (This year marked her 60oth birthday).

Joan of Arc statue in the St. Louis Cathedral, NOLA

Joan of Arc statue in the St. Louis Cathedral, NOLA

So why talk about a Catholic saint on a Pagan blog?

Joan of Arc has always fascinated me. Unlike many other feminist icons, it’s impossible to rewrite Joan of Arc as anything other than Catholic. And unlike many other religious icons, we have  many primary sources available to us to tell us the details about her life and death. But what I find the most fascinating about her is the fact that her faith was what allowed her to do the things she did. She was a Believer. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter what religion she was practicing, or of what entities she was having visions. She did what most Pagans hope to be able to do: She used her visions and discussions with the divine to help her change the world.

Think about it: an illiterate 16 year old girl convinced a King and his veteran generals to allow her to lead their army against an enemy they had been fighting for over ninety years, in a time when women were not allowed to be part of martial life at all. All of this under the religious auspices of a faith that gives very little power to women, even today. And unlike many powerful women of that era, she was not burned at the stake because she was accused of withcraft, but because she was accused of Heresy.

One of the most powerful things I’ve seen done by Priests and Priestesses is the Drawing Down. Invocation of a God or Goddess is an intense experience. When my partner draws down our patron God, his eyes change color, he smells different, and it’s obvious that he is no longer “at home”. This is one of the penultimate tasks of (at least Wiccan) Priests and Priestesses. As a Wiccan, I get to talk directly to my Gods, and this is one of the major things that separate us from other religions. This is, of course, not the only way, and certainly not the easiest, but it is a major part of the spiritual experience of being Wiccan.

Jason Mankey wrote a great blog with his own experiences about this here. He says in the blog:

While drawing down the moon is practically the most awesome think I can conceive of, it’s often absent from a lot of Modern Pagan Ritual. There are certainly groups who still make it a central part of their rites, but that seems more like the exception these days. There are a lot of reasons for this. Drawing down the moon is hard work, a lot of people aren’t ready to do it, and it’s not something you generally see at (open) large rituals. It’s also such an overwhelming experience for everyone involved (Priestess and circle-mates) that it’s generally not a good idea to do in certain (most) circumstances. By its very nature it’s something that requires a well trained clergy.

This is is one of the “secrets” of Wicca that will be lost if we continue to “learn” Wicca from books. This is something a book just can’t really teach you and it is definitely not something I recommend you try if you haven’t had years of training. I’ve only started to learn the very basics of what leads up to this and it is not the sort of work you do lightly.

While Joan of Arc may not have been Drawing Down the way Pagans, do, she was certainly having her own direct experience with deity through her religious tenants. I think anyone who can do this is pretty amazing. And the fact that her story has stood up to the test of history, and is still very present today, is a pretty powerful message about the the need for people who can speak directly to the divine and who can take the message they hear with them out into the world. In this modern era of science and technology, the divine is still with us, and people like Joan of Arc and our priests and priestesses help remind us of our connection to it. I’m glad that I live in a city that celebrates her.

Here are a few pictures from the parade:

Warrior Joan

Warrior Joan

St. Joan and Queen Yolande

St. Joan and Queen Yolande

Joanie on a Poney

Joanie on a Poney

One of the Saints who visited Joan.

One of the Saints who visited Joan.

The Wheel of Torture

The Wheel

Random Dragon

There were many people who carried banners with actual quotes from Joan of Arc

There were many people who carried banners with quotes from Joan of Arc, she said this right before they burned her at the stake.

Angels

Angels

Founder of the parade

Founder of the parade

Random Passerbye

Random Passerby

At the end of the parade, candles lit in front of the cathedral doors after they blessed St. Joan's sword

At the end of the parade, candles lit in front of the cathedral doors after they blessed St. Joan’s sword and moved on down to Chartres to get to the famous statue.

Misconceptions about Wicca

After writing a blog for Pagan Square discussing mystery traditions and magical secrecy I wanted to talk a little more about the misconceptions about Wicca that I’ve seen over the last year or so. There seems to be so many misunderstandings out there about what Wiccans do, and there seems to be a great deal of anger focused towards Wicca. Sadly, in the past, I too have been guilty of a few of these misconceptions. It took finding someone that I wanted to work with to change my mind about Wicca. I’ve seen Wicca called the “default” of Paganism, and I’ve seen it called a “dinosaur” that just needs to go extinct, and much more. So let’s clear a few things up.

One of the things that I keep seeing is that Wiccans don’t actually believe in the Gods, that it’s just a practice of magic. While different traditions balance these two out in different ways, one of the integral parts of Wicca is worship of the Gods. I think that some of the confusion comes over the fact that many Wiccans talk about the “Lord” and the “Lady” and while there are many Pagans out there that believe in larger constructs of the “Lord” and the “Lady”, Wiccan traditions usually have a patron God and Goddess that only a tradition’s initiates know the ‘identity’ of. Put another way, the b=name of a coven’s patron God and patroness goddess is often a tradition secret, and so instead of calling specific names, especially in public or in outer court, we use the title of the “Lord” and “Lady.”  This “Lord” and “Lady” are not the only Gods worshiped; they are simply most prominent in that particular tradition, but are not seen as simple archetypes; they are our Gods.

One belief I’ve seen is that it’s very disrespectful to work with a deity that you don’t know, and that it’s necessary for you have to form close ties with your Gods. One of the things Wiccans do throughout training is form close ties with specific deities. Of course everyone has to start somewhere, but it’s like any relationship;  you introduce yourself and go from there. Often covens encourage relationships between students and the Gods the coven works with. Many covens feel that a student is brought to their group by the Gods they serve, as that student will come to serve those particular Gods. Often the relationship a Wiccan has with their Gods is deeply personal. Older initiates think that its extremely disrespectful to ask someone from another coven about the Gods they worship. They see that as being a deeply personal connection that isn’t open to the scrutiny of outsiders.

Just as with any practice, there is a range of beliefs when it comes to the Gods; not all of us are hard polytheists and there are definitely those who will just call on the “Lord” and “Lady,” but I would say that a majority of people who practice Wicca do so to worship the Gods, however they view them. Magic is not the prominent reason for practicing Wicca, though it is also an important part.

Wicca by DuChatNoirPub

Wicca by DuChatNoirPub

I’ve heard a lot of criticism over the fact that Wicca integrates a great deal of Ceremonial Magic and the Kabbalah, that there is no actual traditional witchcraft in Wicca. Gardner and Sanders both used a lot of Ceremonial Magic when they started their traditions, but a lot of people have worked hard to take the ceremonial magic out of their traditions and return them to more “folkloric” practices. Janet and Stewart Farrar are infamous for doing this with the Alexandrian tradition. Blue Star, my own tradition, has also worked hard to take practices based in Ceremonial Magic out. My personal thought on this is that the Ceremonial Magic works; because of its basis in the Kabbalah, it has a lot of strong ritual theory behind it. When Gardner openly published about Wicca in the 1950’s, he wanted to attract people with things that were teachable. Many people who practice magic work with Ceremonial Magic, it seems logical that it would have ended up a part of Wicca.

Another issue that is brought up is that all Wiccan covens are cults of personality based around a priest or priestess. To some extent this is true. A good priest or priestess is like any good religious leader, they have the dynamic personality and ability to create an amazing spectacle that any religious leader has. I’ve always heard the best priests and priestesses are more than a little crazy. They sort of have to be to be able to tap into that other-world and to want to put themselves directly in the path of divinity. You also have to be a little crazy to be able to ignore what conventional society wants to tell you about how the world works. You have to be able to go beyond what your eyes see to successfully speak to the Gods and do magic. For that matter, I would say that most Pagans have a little bit of this going on in their lives. I think the problem comes from people seeing the drama that can ensue, and unfortunately, some of the abuses of power that happen in an improperly trained coven. Unfortunately it does happen and it’s up to the individual to say, no, I’m not going to allow this person to do this and to walk away, or to recognize what’s going on and to seek out help from the tradition. Traditions do usually have checks and balances for their members. Any social group where a hierarchy is involved has the possibility of attracting people who want to abuse it. Don’t be sheep people, use your heads. It’s also more likely you’ll find properly functioning covens in established traditions, like Gardnerian and Alexandrian, than in fly-by-night made-up-last-week traditions. The better trained a Priestess or Priest is, the better they will run a coven.

A lot of people tell me that they’ve read the books and know everything there is to know about Wicca. Wicca is a mystery religion, and a large majority of what happens after initiation has not been written down. A big misconception is that initiation is the goal. It is not, initiation is really only the beginning of your work as a priest or priestess. Some traditions will initiate you first and then start teaching you. I prefer my tradition’s approach. We have two outer court levels where you learn the basics and only after your priest or priestess thinks that you’re ready to walk this path will they offer to initiate you. Once you’re initiated, the hard work actually starts. There are a lot of “101” books out there and I’ve heard many people complain that there aren’t any advanced books out there. Well, there’s a good reason for that…most of that is information is oath bound and people won’t publish it. It’s also not the sort of thing you hand to a newbie who has only read a book. Wicca is hard work. It takes time and dedication and is not for the faint of heart. I’m a librarian, I revere books and easy access to information in ways most of the rest of the society does not, but in the case of Wicca, the books aren’t going to get you very far.

A lot of people seem to assume that when we do ritual every week, we are having a bunch of constant orgies. You know, cast a circle, do a little ritual, wine and cakes…and BAM, everyone drops it like it’s hot! Covens work closely together. A well functioning coven is more than simply family. The ties you create with those you work with magically will have a profound impact on your life. I know a lot of covens in which there are many close sexual relationships. That doesn’t mean that we cast and then jump each other. Sexuality is a sacred element of Paganism and should be celebrated, but that doesn’t mean that orgies are what happens during ritual or are required. For as many covens as I know that have a lot of sexual ties within, I know just as many that have absolutely none.

A lot of people want to argue that Wicca is a New Age religion. It is not. At it’s heart, it’s about the balance of the male and female energies, both light and dark. I’ve talked before about how people abuse the Rede and make it say what they want it to say. Yes, we believe in the law of three, that doesn’t mean that I believe in only light and love and goodness. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way. If anything, our world is made up of shades of grey and Wicca is about dealing with all of the energies involved in the creation of our world.

 Wiccaby ~SelinaFenech

Wiccaby ~SelinaFenech

Another big issue I see pop up a lot is that Wicca is for women only. Again, Wicca is about the balance of male and female. I think this is a common misconception in the overall Pagan community and is something that we need to work on. We can’t ignore our men, they are as vitally important to our Circles, our rituals and our lives as the women are. I think this is an unfortunate side effect of our modern society and the fact that women are still such second class citizens. Paganism is a place where a woman is able to be powerful and comfortable in her abilities. It seems that many more women are attracted to Paganism in general because of some of this. That doesn’t mean that our men don’t play just as big a role as our women and I think that it’s something that we, as an overall community, need to deal with. It really is all about balance, and when you lose balance, you have an unhealthy community.

I’ll probably think of more later, but if you want to seek Wicca out, go find an actual person to talk to. Join a group and get to know people. Any priest or priestess who wants to teach will sit down and talk to you about what Wicca is, what that particular group and tradition does and will explain the type of work that will be required of you. They will understand if after hearing them and maybe working with them a little bit if you find that it is not the path for you and this should be true of any group, Wiccan or otherwise, that you join in Paganism. If you want to read more of my advice about what to do when first seeking out a Pagan group, read my blog (Information and Resources for New Pagans) about it.

Wicca is not for everyone, but it is for some and it saddens me to see the path I’ve chosen be so vilified and hated for such lack of basic understanding.