Charon Ritual Response – Guest Blog

After posting my last blog, I sent it to my own students. We have been talking about ritual and the creation of magical works. We have been talking about the appropriate way to create magical workings while utilizing our ritual and the resources that can help you do so. I asked them to read my friend E’s ritual and discuss a few things:

Did you agree with what E did? Why or why not.

Would you change anything? If so, why?

What would you have done differently?

If you needed to create a ritual to end a cycle and get yourself out of a bad spot, how would you do it?

One of my brilliant initiates wrote me this response. I think it highlights the differences between eclecticism and formal Wicca, while giving a well thought out response to my questions. It also demonstrates the differences between someone who is new to this practice and one who is in dedicated service to this particular pantheon. E has never approached a working like this before, while C is a trained initiate.

I thought you would enjoy it as well. So without further ado, my lovely initiate C responds to my friend E! Posted with C’s permission…

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Perspehone by seaspell

Charon Ritual Response

First, I want to say thank you to you and E for sharing this. I think E’s thoughtfully crafted offering to Charon was a beautiful response to her current situation, and I suspect that many can relate to this predicament/ feeling of being trapped in hell. Props to her for taking real and significant steps (mentally, spiritually and legally) to achieve life again instead of trying to make a defeated existence in hell as comfortable as possible (the lazy choice made by most people).

My perspective on this ritual is based on my own experience, knowledge, and relationship with these gods. However, I recognize E’s intuition and intent, as a magical practitioner, as the correct guide for her own rituals and spell-work and believe that her sincere practice is right for her and will hopefully open the gates to a new life.

That being said, here are my thoughts on this ritual and the changes that I would make for myself:

pay_the_ferryman_by_walterodim

Pay the Ferryman by WalterODim

The most significant change I would make to this ritual would be including Persephone and Hades. I find it interesting that she focused on Charon. In this same situation of finding myself in the underworld, I would focus on Persephone and Hades, for it is their favor that is needed when trying to leave the underworld.

Phase 1: apology and belated payment for initial journey into the underworld

From my perspective, her lack of initial payment to Charon on her journey into hell makes her return possible. Coins were put in the mouth of the deceased as payment in order to secure their passage into the underworld and prevent their soul from returning. It was believed that without a proper burial and payment, the deceased would be denied entry by Charon. However, this did occasionally happen, like in the case of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, who had been ordered to report to the underworld as punishment for tricking and imprisoning Hades, cleverly instructed his wife not to bury his body or provide a coin for payment before he died. When he arrived in the underworld he was able to plead with Persephone to let him return on these grounds, arguing that he should not have been granted entry into the underworld in the first place without proper payment. Persephone agreed and allowed him to return so that he could secure a proper passage into the underworld.

With this in mind, having mistakenly ended up in hell without proper passage and payment, I would address my appeal to Persephone with the promise that proper payment be made upon my death and ultimate descent. In this phase of E’s ritual she provided the coin as payment for her initial journey. I would not have done this in fear that I would be trapping myself in the underworld by doing so.

I agree that the new moon would be an appropriate time for this ritual for two reasons: 1) As the conclusion of a previous lunar cycle, this phase is symbolic of death and is a good time to communicate with underworld gods and to discard any negative/undesirable behaviors/thoughts/attitudes and to communicate with underworld gods. 2) It is also the beginning of a new cycle, and the imminent illumination of the waxing moon will serve as a symbolic representation and reminder of the ascent to renewed life.

In a ritual focused on death and new life, I would find it crucial to acknowledge Persephone and Hades. Persephone in particular, as a goddess of renewal and changing seasons (and the more likely to be sympathetic to heartache… and being trapped in the underworld via marriage…) should be honored.

Other than the coin, I think that E’s offering of olives, wine and cakes was appropriate and generous, and mine would be very similar if I were to do this ritual. In addition, I might include some fresh (springtime) flowers and honey for Persephone.

Phase 2: payment to get out of hell

I found E’s approach to this fascinating. I like the idea of looking for modern analogies in a ritual context. I would never think of doing something like this, but after reading this I will definitely experiment this concept in my own magical workings (so thank you E for inspiring me to think outside of my box).

While E used a money offering to motivate Charon to deliver her from hell (very insightfully I might add), I would probably use a different approach based on my own resources.

E acknowledged the sacrifice aspect of her payment when deciding how much to give. I think this is particularly relevant in this case. I believe that the ascension out of hell is a daunting task that will require active participation, discipline and sacrifice on the part of the traveler.

Drawing from other myths about this journey, I would do two things to motivate and fuel my journey.

First, with music being a big part of my own practice, I would either learn a hymn or write

lyre_of_orpheus_by_talonabraxas-d3ecxqg

Lyre of Orpheus by TALONABRAXAS

something to perform for Persephone and Charon. While my music obviously could never compare to the heavenly melodies played by Orpheus that enchanted Charon and tamed Cerberus, it is a thoughtful and active offering that is personal to me. The amount of emotion, power and breath that I give in my playing would serve as an expression of my sincerity and determination. This would also serve as a reminder to me that if I indulge myself by looking back (let past thoughts, attitudes, resentments etc. creep back in), I will be trapped in hell. A new life can not be possible as long as you remain stuck in the past.

I would also add a physical element in this phase of the ritual to offer Charon assistance with paddling. There are several instances of Charon asking/ordering travelers to do this. Ideally, I would do some type of aquatic exercise like rowing or swimming. However, because my environment does not lend itself to this type of activity, I would probably run instead.

At sunrise, the morning after my offerings on the new moon, I would commit myself to running 3 miles. I think 3 is an appropriate number to seal the work done the night before. Also, it should be noted that I am a horrible runner with horrible stamina and 3 miles would be a very difficult feat for me. This number she be adjusted depending on the physical ability of the individual to be adequately difficult. This struggle and sacrifice through physical exertion is 1) to make Charon’s job easier and 2) to demonstrate my active role in making it out of hell and acknowledging that though it will difficult and exhausting, it can be accomplished if I stay focused and keep looking forward.

My last thought on this ritual, as an initiate, would be to call upon (name of patroness) and (name of patron) who witnessed my initiation as they have already seen me through a journey of death and rebirth.

 

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Becoming

It’s almost Yule time once again. While I love Yule, this time of year is rough for many reasons and this year seems to be more depressing than most. I’ll also be turning 30 in less than two weeks and life has certainly not gone the way I expected it to the last few years.

Yule magic, Christmas magic, Hanukkah magic, Hogmanay magic, Nickanan magic, Jul magic, Saturnalia magic, or whatever you want to call it, this time of year has the power to bring people together and to allow us to acknowledge the possibility of magic in ways that usually we easily ignore or forget to believe in. Everything is possible this time of year. We ask for magic constantly and expect miracles to happen. This is the time of year that even the most prosaic can secretly believe.

This is the time of year that I love to turn to an old childhood favorite, The Velveteen Rabbit. I give this book to all my friends having children, because if you have read The Velveteen Rabbit and have loved it as a child, you are already prepared a little bit more for the world .

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There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.

Like all of us, the Velveteen Rabbit starts out perfect, shiny and new, ready to be loved and to enjoy the life he is given. But soon, he is forgotten and becomes depressed and disillusioned. The Velveteen rabbit has to go through a painful transformation before he can truly become a part of the world around him. He has to suffer pain and sorrow before he can become real.

The Skin Horse, an old nursery toy, gives him advice, as all, old wise elders do. The Skin Horse has been worn down by the life he was given, but he is more powerful because of it. The horse is representative of sovereignty over yourself and having control of the world around you, and the Skin Horse is no different. He has mastered himself and is willing to share that knowledge with the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

the skin horse

There are a lot of people who don’t understand, who forget, who allow hatred and fear blind them to everything else. We are all constantly worn down and broken. It is those of us who can flex and bend and accept that make it through. Becoming real is hard. It hurts. But once it happens, like an initiation, it can’t be taken away from you.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

As a witch, I see one of the things I am actively doing is seeking that realness. I look for the magic around me and work to make it happen. I don’t ignore the process, I assist it. It might be painful, but it is necessary. It is not an easy path, but it is a path that leads to truth and light and even more importantly love. Love truly is the greatest power in the world and while it might seem old and cliched, the power of love can do things nothing else can. I wonder, if we loved more, what would the world around us be?

I’m not a White Lighter. I believe in the power and the need for the dark, for death, for all those things the end and close cycles. I believe in balance and the need for pain and struggle. I embrace the shadows, because they give us insight that we can’t find in the light. But this time of year is the one time of year that I actively seek that light, because I know that the darkness is about to give way to new things.

These past two years have worn away at me. I have become shabby, just like that old rabbit. But I still have love and in the end, that is more important than anything else that has happened. It is also my best defiance to all of those that have enjoyed my pain and sorrow, who have denied aid or rational thought and who have actively worked to harm me and mine without greater understanding.

I still have love. I still have happiness. The dark has not swallowed me yet. I stand here despite all of it.

I will accept the sacrifices and the suffering, because in the end I can take it in ways that most others cannot. And from it, something better will come.

I may have gotten older, shabbier and lost much of the light I started out with, but that darkness that has creeped in is what allows the light to shine even brighter.

You may laugh at me and tell me that its just a children’s book and ask what truth there can possibly be in a story about a stuffed rabbit that becomes real through the power of love?

But if I have learned nothing else as a witch, it is that those old stories have truths and wisdoms and teachings about power that nothing else can provide. We learn magic from these stories and begin to understand how to hope. I love that this is a fairly new story, but that it captures the heart of all the old ones.

Neil Gaiman wrote: “A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams and a world in which there is hope.”

My family may have become some of those monsters, but The Velveteen Rabbit reminds me that everything has a reason and that this too shall pass. Even the monster plays a role and helps transform the hero into something better. I can accept being cast in the role of the monster, because I know where it will bring me. And in the end, the Goddess is always waiting to carry me elsewhere.

I may not be real yet, but someday I will be.

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If you have not read The Velveteen Rabbit, you can find it here for free.

When I wrote this, this morning, I didn’t realize that it had published today in 1922. Happy Birthday to The Velveteen Rabbit!

Magical Apples

Fall and is definitely a season of apples! At least in North America. The apple dominates many seasonal activities, foods and symbolism. I asked my students to research Samhain traditions throughout Europe (Samhain is of course inherently Celtic, but many other European cultures see the Fall as a time to celebrate the reaping of the harvest and death as Fall fades into Winter) and one of my students found a tradition in which people bury apples to feed their ancestors, which inspired this post.

The tale of  the serpent and the apple is one that probably almost every person in Western culture is familiar with. The apple, the forbidden fruit, is the symbol of Eve’s disobedience and in many ways, women’s power over themselves, their bodies and their choices. It is also a reminder that Eve was not Adam’s first wife. Lilith, the snake, she who would not be ignored, is one woman that Western culture often conveniently likes to overlook. The apple represents knowledge and the ability to reason, and therefore make our own choices and not simply follow the instructions of an uncaring deity, the way that Lilith did before she was cast from the Garden.

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton's Paradise Lost)

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton’s Paradise Lost)

Of course, Lilith is a much older deity than the one dimensional character she plays in the Old Testament. Lilith is remembered originally from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a text that was written probably around 1800 years before Genesis. Lilith sits in the Huluppu tree that Inanna has planted in order to use to build a new throne. Inanna is the goddess of creation and she is afraid of Lilith, who represents the chaos of the primordial world. Inanna asks Gilgamesh to rid the tree of Lilith’s presence, in order for Inanna to establish her order over Lilith’s chaos. Of course the tree, just like the tree in Genesis, is the World Tree or the Tree of Knowledge, and Lilith is the feminine spirit that inhabits the tree. In Genesis, Jehovah wants an inherently masculine world and Adam promises not to eat the fruit of the tree, which is feminine in nature. Eve never makes that promise and when the serpent tells her to eat the fruit, she has no qualms about doing so. Of course, Jehovah cannot stand to have female energy dominate his new world and casts both Adam and Eve out in order to contain Eve’s possible knowledge.

Lilith is known as the mother of demons; motherhood here seems to be the ultimate evil. When Eve was cast from the Garden, she is forced to endure pain in childbirth. To this day, menstruation is seen as unclean throughout many cultures and in those cultures, being male is the only way to be truly pure.

Another story of the apple representing knowledge and discord is the infamous Apple of Discord thrown by Eris, eventually causing the Trojan War, a war that transitioned the world from the age of myth and heroes to the age of history and reason. Again, women are seen as being at the cause of the issue of the apple and of the war itself. Where did this apple come from? It was the apple that Hippomenes used to distract Atalanta from beating him, apples he got from Golden Aphrodite, the goddess of love, thus forcing Atalanta to marry and become a mother.

Do we see a common theme in all of these apple stories?

In North mythology, Idunn guarded the golden apples which kept the Aesir young. When she was kidnapped for her golden apples by a frost giant, Loki had to rescue her to ensure that the Aesir wouldn’t age. The apple is a symbol of rebirth and beauty, just as in the other myths already discussed.

Arthur Rackham's

Arthur Rackham’s “Freya”

Of course, there is also Avalon, the Isle of Apples, the place where Excalibur is forged and that is famous for mystical, magical practices. Both Morgana Le Fey and Nimue are associated with Avalon and apples. Arthur is taken to Avalon in order to recover from wounds received during the Battle of Camlann, the battle where he fought Mordred and lost.

In later fairy tales, the apple shows up over and over as well. The most famous instance is perhaps the apple in the story of Snow White. Unlike the Disneyfied version of Snow White, the Witch Queen disguised as an old beggar woman first tempts Snow White with golden combs and a beautiful corset. The combs are poisoned and when they are removed from her scalp, Snow White wakes up. When the Dwarves cut the corset off Snow White, she is able to breathe again and is once more OK. But with the apple…the apple is stuck in her throat and this time the Dwarves can’t understand what is wrong and can do nothing but put her in the famous glass coffin. Unlike in most modern versions, it is not a kiss from the Prince that awakes Snow White, it is because when the Prince comes and sees Snow White, he demand that the Dwarves allow him to take the beautiful woman in the glass coffin home with him. In the course of carrying it, the coffin is dropped, jolting the apple out of Snow White’s throat. It is only through the Witch Queen’s careful initiation that Snow White gains the knowledge she needs to claim her rightful place in the adult world and become a wife and mother.

Apples are inherently important throughout western myth. And the apple and the witch figure often go hand in hand.

In Gardnerian Wicca, its a sacred act to slice an apple down the center in order to see the pentacle inside.

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Photo by Lauren DeVoe

Apples are often used in divination and love spells. If you can peel an apple without breaking the peel and then toss the full peel over your shoulder, the peel should form the initials of your true love’s name.

CIder is of course the base of Wassail and is found as a part of ritual throughout the year.

The wood is used for many different magical purposes as well. Many shipbuilders traditionally wouldn’t use apple wood to build ships, because apple wood was used to build coffins, again helping people transition to the Underworld.

The apple is the foundation of so much of our myth and ritual; take the time this Samhain to enjoy the apple season. Go to an orchard and pick apples with your friends and loved ones. Cut an apple open on the full moon and thank the Goddess for another year. Bury apples so that the dead have something to eat. We often take the apple for granted and forget its many magical uses. When you eat an apple, you are eating the fruit of knowledge and are acknowledging the power of the sacred feminine and at the end of the day, just like the sexuality of women, the apple is simply a delicious fruit that should always be savored.

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Photo by KK at Brushwood, 2012

The Ordeal

This was originally posted on Witches and Pagans on July 27, 2013.

 

“…And you will earn the right of return,
and all the moons you can swallow”
~Tea With Witches, Kate Chadbourne

Right before I left for Sirius Rising, I came across one of Star Foster’s blogs about her experience with her own initiation, Considering Consent: Initiation, Baptism, and Other Religious Milestones. This blog left me with a lot to chew over, since my own initiation was nothing like Star’s experience and I was preparing to assist in elevating two of my students.

In the blog Star says, “I told my initiator afterwards that had I had an understanding of what the ritual would entail, I would never have requested an initiation. I would have remained a ‘friend of the house.’ To be perfectly honest, had I been given a paper copy of the ritual to peruse ahead of time, my response would have likely been ‘Oh HELL NO!’”

A required reading in my tradition is “What Witches Do” by Stewart Farrar. The very first chapter of the book is about initiation and describes a man going through it. I didn’t read it before I took initiation exactly because I didn’t want to know what would happen during an initiation. I have read the book since and am glad that I made the choice not to do so beforehand. For me, going through initiation was partly about proving to myself that even without knowing exactly what was going to happen, I was ready enough to handle it without any forewarning. That I could blindly take what was done and have the knowledge to handle anything thrown at me. While initiation is an undertaking that you’re given by others, my initiation was a test I had also set for myself.

Walking into my initiation, I was fairly nervous. While I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, I was trained well enough to have a good idea of what to expect. While I didn’t read other accounts of initiation before hand, my priest and priestess didn’t send me into things blindly. I didn’t walk into my initiation expecting a “positive, loving experience” as some of the people that Star talked to told her about, I walked into my initiation knowing that I would be facing my Gods face to face and was bolstered by the knowledge that my initiators deemed me ready to handle whatever came next. I expected to be uncomfortable, I expected to be tested. I expected to swear serious vows and to be asked uncomfortable questions. My tradition made sure to equip me with the tools I needed to get through my initiation healthy, happy and whole.

Initiation was not something I expected to be pleasant, it was something I expected, in some ways, to survive. It is about the death of an old life and the start of a new one. I didn’t expect this to be a happy experience. I expected this to be an ordeal.


Initiations and elevations are supposed to be ordeals. Jason Mankey, Pagan scholar and blogger (he has a blog over at Patheos called Raise the Horns and he will soon have a new column here at Witches and Pagans, go check it out!) and also a dear friend and Gardnerian was discussing initiation with me at Sirius Rising. Jason used that word, ordeal. And I think “ordeal” sums up everything about initiation beautifully.

During Sirius Rising, I assisted with two elevations. They were the first elevations that I have been the acting priestess for. While they were outer court elevations, they were elevations that are about the acceptance of taking the path to initiation.

What surprised me about leading others through this elevation was that it was not just an ordeal for the ones undertaking to elevate. This was also an ordeal for myself and my priest as well. In some ways, getting ready for this ritual was harder for myself and my partner than it was for those who were elevating. They just had to show up and get through it, we had to memorize several pages of lines, find a place, have all the tools, get the right objects needed, provide some things for after and facilitate the ritual, the ritual that was more draining for us performing it and channeling deity than it was for those undertaking it!

It took us several days to get ready and that was after all the time spent making sure our students were taught and properly prepared to handle the elevation. I stood anxiously throughout the ritual, after having done my part of it, waiting to see if our students stood up to the tests provided, hoping that I had prepared them enough and had judged correctly that they were ready. In many ways, their elevation was as much a test for me as it was for them, it was a test of my role as teacher.

This definitely changed my perspective on the act of initiation. I don’t know if I would have understood how an initiation or elevation could be an ordeal for those giving it without experiencing both sides of the coin first, but initiation is an ordeal for everyone involved. And I have a feeling that if it isn’t, you aren’t doing it right.

Also during Sirius Rising I took part in Jason Mankey’s Morrison ritual and was initiated into the Morrison Clan. If you ever have the opportunity to go to one, it is a heck of a lot of fun. The Morrison clan embraces the idea that Jim Morrison of the Doors fame was an incarnation of Dionysius, the ritual celebrates excess and all that life has to offer with music by the Doors playing in the background. Once again I had to prove myself deserving initiation. This time, initiation was a lot more fun, but that apprehension was still there. This time around, the things I did to “prove” myself were a lot more fun, but they were still trials, they were still an ordeal. I was still aware that we were in a Circle with the Gods and that my life would be changed forever by that act.

I hope that for my students now and in the future, I will not misjudge and I will continue to provide all the knowledge and support needed to get them to that place where they are ready to handle their initiation without feeling that they didn’t consent to what happens during one. I would hate to think that I had left someone with as a bad a taste for the Craft the way that it seems Star was. I hope to remember initiation is and always will be an ordeal. Initiation is not for the unprepared, it is trial, triumph and tribulation rolled all into one.

The Liminality of Festivals

For the past two years or so I’ve been blogging for Witches and Pagans. As some of you may or may not know, my life is currently in a state of upheaval.  While I’m not yet comfortable talking about that and while I sort out everything else that is going on, I thought I would start publishing some of those posts here. I don’t know whether or not I will stay at Witches and Pagans when all is said and done, but…I think a lot of those posts were really great and I would like to both share them with you and to be able to keep them.

So I will start with this one, “The Liminality of Festivals,” which I originally published July 25th, 2012.

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I just returned from Sirius Rising, a festival held at Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY.

For me, festival is a liminal experience. That probably sounds rather cliche in this context (who doesn’t like to bring up liminality?), but every time I go to a festival, something life altering ends up happening.

After the last festival that I went to, I hit a young buck with my car coming home. The police officer who arrived to help me, told my father as I was sitting on the side of the road next to my completely shattered car, that I was lucky to be alive. At the time, with a full Mabon moon riding red and heavy in the night sky, I assumed that I hadn’t given enough of myself that Mabon and that some more blood needed to be offered.

Now, looking back on the events of that festival and what happened in my life around that period (all of which started right before that particular festival), I’m pretty sure a particular God was giving me a very clear message about a decision that I had just made, letting me know that I was going to have to change course to set myself back on the proper spiritual path.

The events of that autumn changed me forever, and as with any initiatory experience, I think that I had to have that experience to get where I am now. I had to come face to face with the Underworld, both that night and once again later in that Fall at Samhain, to enter back into life. Yule, as it’s supposed to, brought the beginnings of the possibility of life back to me. While the Wheel of the Year is pretty clear in its metaphorical meanings, that year demonstrated many more of its actual practical realities on my life. And where I am now is a very happy, healthy place, largely because of the wonderful man that those events led me to.

This was, as I see it, my first real initiatory experience, though it was neither planned nor officiated by anyone human, and was messy and rather drawn out, with Death serving as a grim sort of Summoner. The Pirates of the C.U.C. Constantine had helped me put a name on everything that I had always felt up to that point in my life as Pagan, and this experience, assisted patiently by my pirate sisters, was my transition to my current Wiccan path.

This year, at the first festival I’ve been to since the last one, I took my next Wiccan elevation. While I’m still a ways away from actual initiation in my current tradition, I think that first walk between the worlds was the only reason that I was allowed to move onto this one.

b2ap3_thumbnail_tree_20120725-182000_1On another forum that I participate in, someone was questioning the role that initiation plays in Paganism. I feel I understand that role now. Without that initiation, nothing that has come since could have been allowed to happen. Initiation is a sort of death: it is the gateway through which you have to pass to move forward. You have to be tested, whether it is by someone else or by yourself; and you must face Death to move on. Festival plays a big role in this for me. It is a place that you go that is between the worlds (without you ever having to cast a circle). Going to festival takes you out of the mundane world. While I live my Pagan life 24/7, unlike many Pagans who are not able to be out of the broom closet, festival is still an important place for me to go to be fully myself. While I sit at my desk all day at my nine-to-five job, I have to curtail much of my true self. At festival, dancing naked around a fire, the wild, primitive me has a rightful place of existence. The Goddess flows through me and happily leaps with the excited beating of my heart in ways that She can’t manifest herself in the “real” world. Festival is a path between the worlds where you get to exist for a full week. Many things can happen in seven days when you walk between the worlds.

It also helps to remind me of the sheer joy of being a Pagan. While I study Wicca seriously and constantly, and love what I am doing, festival reminds me in a much more visceral manner about what being Pagan is and what has always drawn me to this life.

All last week, I kept stumbling across snakes. At the beginning of this festival, I had formally asked for my next elevation, but didn’t think that it was going to happen that week. I didn’t find out until near the very end of festival that it was actually occurring. Right before the actual ritual, I was sitting just outside of Brushwood’s amazing Labyrinth, starring at the Bottle Tree that they had erected for their Spirit ritual, contemplating what this elevation would mean to me. I looked up at the gorgeous and expansive night sky to witness two shooting stars. Stumbling out of the woods later, I happened to look up to see another one. The Gods were clearly walking with me once again.

This initiation was not as life altering as that very first one, but it will still have as many profound effects on my life. And I draw some satisfaction that correct decisions brought me to a much more peaceful and quick initiation this time. Would this have happened without the atmosphere of the festival? No. There was more than the usual amount of magic in that place that assisted me to further my journey into Paganism. Festivals can be many different things to many different people, but they allow for things to occur in life that perhaps can’t occur elsewhere. The level of magical energy simply amplifies all that one experiences. Whether I am hanging out with Pirates or with my Wiccan coven, festival is a place of spirit and family. While events around festival aren’t always pleasant (just ask that deer), they are vital to our existence as Pagans.

If you haven’t tried a festival yet, take a week and do it. It is not an experience that you will ever find anywhere else. You never know what might be waiting in the shadows of the forest for you, but festival is a place where you certainly might find out.

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.

The Melissae of Ancient Greece

[550] “But I will tell you another thing, Son of all-glorious Maia and Zeus who holds the aegis, luck-bringing genius of the gods. There are certain holy ones, sisters born — three virginsgifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassus. These are teachers of divination apart from me, the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak truth; but if they be deprived of the gods’ sweet food, then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight your heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do, often will he hear your response — if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia, and tend the wild roving, horned oxen and horses and patient mules.”                                          ~ HOMERIC HYMNS, TRANS. BY H. G. EVELYN-WHITE, IV. TO HERMES

According to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the Thriae were three nymphs who taught the art of prophecy to Apollo. Apollo taught it to Hermes, who was the god that escorted souls to the Underworld and then escorted them back into life again. They were the original Melissae, or bee nymphs of Mount Parnassus named Melaina (“the black”), Kleodora (“Famed for her Gift”), and Daphnis (“Laurel”). Often described as women with wings and hair that appears white because of how much pollen was covering it, they are generally considered to be the triple goddess aspect of The Pure Mother Bee, also called Potnia who was possibly the older Goddess that originally dwelled on Mount Parnassus before Zeus and his siblings came into power.

Later associated with Kore and the Eleusinian mysteries, this may have been the goddess that oversaw the infamous labyrinth in Crete where beekeeping was a sacred practice. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, the three Melissae represented Kore’s descent into the Underworld, Demeter’s search for Kore and finally Kore’s ascent back to the Upperworld.

Potnia means “the mistress” and is often associated with larger Earth mother figures such as Gaia and Rhea. Many priestesses of important goddesses were called “Melissae” or just simply “bees”. The Delphic Oracle herself was often called the Delphic Bee and the complex at Delphi was said to be based on a beehive. Potnia seems to have later evolved into various aspects of Artemis, Aphrodite, Demeter and Cybele. Though Artemis, as the goddess of the wild animals, is the goddess who most usually came to be associated with bees.

Bee and Stag Coin from Ephesus

Bee and Stag Coin representing Artemis from Ephesus

Another story tells of the nymph Melissa, who taught people about honey. She discovered the honey in a honey comb and taught people how to mix it with water and then drink it. She was considered one of the goddesses responsible for civilizing mankind. And thus the bee was named for her. The production of honey was considered to be magical and divine. Because of Melissa’s association with bees, Medieval beekeepers believed that without a virtuous (or civilized) beekeeper, the honey couldn’t be made. Honeybees are of course extremely important to agriculture in most areas of the world. While Medieval beekeepers didn’t know why, they did realize that the bees needed to be kept happy.

Melissa hid the baby Zeus from Cronus, his father, who was determined to devour him as he had done to Zeus’ siblings. She nursed Zeus with milk and honey. When Cronus discovered her role in sheltering Zeus, he turned her into an Earthworm. Zeus, in thanks for all she had done for him, then changed her into a bee instead and forever afterwards Zeus always loved honey.

A different story tells about an aging priestess of Demeter named Melissa who was initiated into Demeter’s mysteries by the goddess herself. When Melissa refused to tell the secrets of her initiation, other women tore her apart. In anger, the goddess Demeter sent a plague of bees against the jealous women.

Melissa was also associated with Artemis. Artemis eased the pain of mothers giving birth and Melissa sent the souls of the newborns to their bodies in the shape of bees. Aphrodite had her own association with bees and was often called Melissa, the Queen bee.

Alfred Dürer, 1514: Eros, Venus and the bees. Eros stung by a bee, when he inhaled the pleasant fragrance of a rose, went crying to take refuge in the arms of Venus,” Dear mother, I die, have mercy on me, a flying snake bit me painfully cheek.”

In all the stories, the Melissae are symbols of regeneration and renewal and are also usually considered to be associated with the Underworld.

The etymology of the word ‘fate’ in Greek offers a fascinating example of how the genius of the Minoan vision entered the Greek language, often visibly, as well as informing its stories of goddesses and gods.  The Greek word for ‘fate’, ‘death’ and ‘goddess of death’ is ‘e ker’ (feminine); the word for’heart’ and ‘breast’ is ‘to ker’ (neuter); while the word for ‘honeycomb’ is ‘to kerion’ (neuter).  The common root ‘ker’ links the ideas of the honeycomb, goddess, death, fate and the human heart, a nexus of meanings that is illumined if we know that the goddess was once imagined as a bee. (Anne Baring & Jules Cashford, “The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image.”)

The Melissae were virginal priestesses because of the pureness of the honey. They drank a “toxic honey” made from psychedelic plants to enable themselves to experience visions. Transgendered priests in the temples of Artemis were often called essenes or drones and were there to help the Melissae. Bees are also often called “veil-winged” and represent the veil you had to cross to reach the Goddess in the inner temple (I see this as initiation), and a woman’s hymen, which of course veiled her body from sexuality until she was initiated into womanhood. The Melissae were often consulted in matters of marriage.

Bees dance and so did the Melissae. Accordingly, this is part of the reason that Apollo, who learned the art of prophecy from the Melissae, was also the god of light and music. Sacred music and dance played an important role in the lives of the Melissae.

Bees, who are known for the industry and order, were also used as examples of how a Priestess should live her life: she helped her community, assisted in healing the sick, crafted tools and objects and were capable of giving someone a good “sting” or set down when they needed it.

Further Reading –

Priestesses of the Bee: The Melissae

The College of the Melissae: Center for Sacred Bee Keeping

Honeybee in Goddess Mythology

Bees and Honey in Greek and Roman Myth

The Eleusinian Mysteries and the Bee