Mabon, the Sacred King and Sacrifice

Blessed Mabon! A little late.

This is a good time of year to talk about the idea of the Sacred King and the Barley Man.

This part of the year, from Litha through Samhain, is focused on the young God and the sacrifice that will guarantee the continuity of the crops. The young god must die with this year’s harvest, and then enter the Underworld, so that he can be reborn in the crops of the following year. It is only through the sacrifice of the king that the people can flourish. Mabon (pronounced MAB-un) is at the center of this cycle.

Six weeks ago, at Lughnasadh, we celebrated the sacred games (named for Lugh, the Irish God of all skills). The winner of these types of sacred games is often crowned the king of the year, and at Mabon, the old king is sacrificed in a variety of different ways for the fertility of the fields. In some places, this is done every year. In other places, it’s either a three, four, five or seven year cycle. The seven year king cycle is found across multiple mythologies.

Looking across the wheel to Ostara, the goddess returns from the Underworld. At Beltane, she and the young god enjoy themselves together. Litha is when the sacred marriage takes place, and at Lughnasadh he is crowned king. At Mabon, the young God must die; and at Samhain, the Goddess travels back to the Underworld to be with him and start the cycle all over again (think of Persephone and Hades as an example of this).

In Wicca, we constantly celebrate the cycle of the Old God, the Young God and the Goddess. This is a cyclical mythology found across European mythology.

James Frazer talks about this idea in The Golden Bough, a book that you can read and reread over and over and still learn new things every time.

“IN THE CASES hitherto described, the divine king or priest is suffered by his people to retain office until some outward defect, some visible symptom of failing health or advancing age, warns them that he is no longer equal to the discharge of his divine duties; but not until such symptoms have made their appearance is he put to death. Some peoples, however, appear to have thought it unsafe to wait for even the slightest symptom of decay and have preferred to kill the king while he was still in the full vigour of life. Accordingly, they have fixed a term beyond which he might not reign, and at the close of which he must die, the term fixed upon being short enough to exclude the probability of his degenerating physically in the interval.” ~ Chapter 24, The Killing of the Divine King, Section 3. Kings killed at the End of a Fixed Term.

theseus-minotaur

I actually came across this concept for the first time when in middle school I read Mary Renault’s The King Must Die . While this novel is historical fiction; it follows the life of the hero Theseus (famous for defeating the Minotaur in Crete) and looks at the transition from matriarchal society to a patriarchal one in ancient Greece. Reading this novel made me immediately think of Demeter and the rites at Eleusis.(I highly recommend this novel for anyone interested in this mythology. I read it when I was fairly young, but it is an adult novel with a lot of amazing mythological insights).

While Demeter searches for her daughter, She comes to the home of a human family.

And thus it came to pass that the splendid son of bright-minded Keleos, Dêmophôn,[25] who was born to well-girded Metaneira, was nourished in the palace, and he grew up like a daimôn, not eating grain, not sucking from the breast. But Demeter used to anoint him with ambrosia, as if he had been born of the goddess, and she would breathe down her sweet breath on him as she held him to her bosom. At nights she would conceal him within the menos of fire, as if he were a smoldering log, and his philoi parents were kept unaware. But they marveled at how full in bloom he came to be, and to look at him was like looking at the gods.[26] Now Demeter would have made him ageless and immortal if it had not been for the heedlessness of well-girded Metaneira, who went spying one night, leaving her own fragrant bedchamber, and caught sight of it [what Demeter was doing]. She let out a shriek and struck her two thighs,[27] afraid for her child. She had made a big mistake in her thûmos. Weeping, she spoke these winged words: “My child! Demophon! The stranger, this woman, is making you disappear in a mass of flames! This is making me weep in lamentation [goos]. This is giving me baneful anguish!” So she spoke, weeping. And the resplendent goddess heard her. Demeter, she of the beautiful garlands in the hair, became angry at her [Metaneira]. She [Demeter] took her [Metaneira’s] philos little boy, who had been born to her mother in the palace, beyond her expectations,—she took him in her immortal hands and put him down on the floor, away from her.[28] She had taken him out of the fire, very angry in her thûmos, and straightaway she spoke to well-girded Metaneira: “Ignorant humans! Heedless, unable to recognize in advance the difference between future good fortune [aisa] and future bad. In your heedlessness, you have made a big mistake, a mistake without remedy. I swear by the Styx,[29] the witness of oaths that gods make, as I say this: immortal and ageless for all all days would I have made your philos little boy, and I would have given him tîmê that is unwilting [a-phthi-tos].[30 But now there is no way for him to avoid death and doom.[31] Still, he will have a tîmê that is unwilting [a-phthi-tos], for all time, because he had once sat on my knees and slept in my arms. At the right hôrâ, every year, the sons of the Eleusinians will have a war, a terrible battle among each other. They will do so for all days to come.[32] I am Demeter, the holder of tîmai. I am the greatest boon and joy for immortals and mortals alike. But come! Let a great temple, with a great altar at its base be built by the entire dêmos. Make it at the foot of the acropolis and its steep walls. Make it loom over the well of Kallikhoron,[33] on a prominent hill. And I will myself instruct you in the sacred rites so that, in the future you may perform the rituals in the proper way and thus be pleasing to my noos.” ~ Homeric Hymn to Demeter, lins 233-274

She taught this little boy the mysteries of agriculture, how to sow and harvest the fields. While he didn’t end up being immortal, he was given a great gift, and is considered to be the founder of the Great Rites.

The greater rites were held in September and celebrated the Persephone myth. While whatever happened in detail at the rites is unknown, we do know that an initiation took place where those shown the mysteries came out with a greater understanding of death. Games and feasting were an important part of the celebration. Cicero wrote “Nothing is higher than these mysteries…they have not only shown us how to live joyfully but they have taught us how to die with a better hope”.  (If you want to read further, I found this article).

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In my coven, we celebrate the great harvest with a sacrifice of the barley man (called John Barleycorn in the British tradition). While the first fruits of the agricultural cycle are available around Lughnasadh, Mabon is when the fields are really ready for the first full harvest. At Samhain, we celebrate the final slaughter of the animals and the last harvest before winter comes. We send the Goddess off to the Underworld and turn inward for the cold months. But at Mabon, it’s time to celebrate the fruition of all our work throughout the year. It’s a time when we can fully reap everything that has been sown, both physically and spiritually. It’s a time for joy and celebration, but also time to sacrifice to ensure that the crops grow again next year.

While ancient cultures may have literally sacrificed the king, we are slightly removed. So we take the symbolic fruits of our labor and bake a Barley Man. I use gingerbread. Molasses, flour and brown sugar are all ingredients that are grown and produced here in Louisiana. Because we are ensuring the fertility of the cycle, he becomes a very obscene barley man, and at the height of ritual, we “chop” his genitals off and slit his throat. He is later left outside and offered to the Gods to do with whatever they will.

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Feasting and celebration is a huge part of our ritual. This is our Thanksgiving. It is time to say thank you for the year that has past and start preparing for the year that is to come.

So feast and make merry and remember the sacrifice that goes into our lives. We may not be sacrificing the traditional way, but blood, sweat and tears still go into everything we have and do, and this is the time of year to celebrate that, embrace that and accept that sacrifice is necessary.

 

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Beauty

Today my friend Lily White Lefevre sent me this blog post about making life more beautiful instead of trying to make it better. In it, the author says:

“Beautiful is the stuff that reaches right in, puts electrical paddles on our heart, and shocks us back to life. It’s the stuff that wakes us up. It’s the stuff that makes us good-ache, like easing off stiff shoes after hours on our feet. It’s the stuff that quenches.

Beautiful is a million little moments.”

And for me, that’s what Wicca is. In the midst of hardship, life, frustration, anger, grief and anxiety, Wicca is a way for me to make the world around me a little more beautiful.

In college, I had some serious medical issues and had a few terrible years. I had given up on religion, because I couldn’t find anything in Christianity that called to me. The church was an ugly place in the midst of an already terrible world. Life was bleak and there was no joy to be found. When I realized I needed spirituality in my life to balance out my physical and mental space and sought out new ways to find it, the world changed for me. Beauty came back to me. What had been a bleak, depressing time in my life was transformed. Magic, ritual, acknowledging the gods and spirits in the world around me, allowed me to see my life differently. The relationships I built with the people around me changed as well. Art, music, creativity all came back to me.

This is what I try to explain to my students. No matter what is going on in the world around you, you have the power to create something different, to create beauty to fill that void. When I raise energy for the gods, I do it out of love and respect and to make sure that the beauty in their worship continues, but also for the joy it brings me. Ritual is a dance of balance that creates beauty, grounded purpose and relief from the daily grind. Even when I practice working rituals, I come out of it feeling centered and lighter than when I went in: “For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and mine also is joy on earth.”

It is so easy to give up on beauty. We see it as being a perk, something that is unnecessary and that can easily be set aside. It is something so easily lost in the midst of everything else. But beauty brings things to our lives that better never can. It is not a hardship, it is not something I have to force. In a world where I have to do things that I don’t want to, Wicca is beauty and I can’t imagine a life without it.

mari_mari_lwyd

Mari is a goddess that always brings me joy! Painting by and copyrighted by my partner.

New Seekers – Where Do I Start?

Recently I’ve received a lot of emails from people seeking advice on how to get started in Paganism. They have no idea what questions to ask, or what to tell me so that I might best advise them on what groups to seek out or what resources they should start with.

One of the ethics of Paganism is taking responsibility for yourself. It’s one of the things that makes us very different than Abrahamic religions. As a seeker, you are expected to do a bit of research into what it is you’re seeking. As a Priestess giving advice based on my years of being around the Pagan community, and practicing both eclectic Paganism and traditional Wicca, it’s difficult for me to advise someone unless they give me a few clues about what they are looking for.

If you’re a new seeker to the Pagan path and you want to reach out to someone for help, here are some things you should ask yourself before making contact:

Are you a spiritual Pagan? Or a magical Pagan? Or both?

What gods and goddesses do you worship? Are you interested in a particular culture of Paganism? This will quickly narrow down who you approach about Paganism.

What is the difference between “Wiccan” and “Pagan.” What other Pagan paths are there out there?

Do you understand what initiations is? Do you want to take a traditional initiation? Why or why not? If you don’t know what initiation is, this is something you should research.

Do you want formal training? How involved do you wish to be with  a group coven? Do you want to become a priest or priestess of the Craft, or simply attend rituals and events to seek the company of other Pagans?

Do some basic research. Its not hard, and while I don’t recommend the internet for serious study, there are plenty of resources out there that give you a basic overview of the modern Craft community in whatever area you are living. Here is my blog on information and resources for new Pagans.

witchy-curse

Once you have thought about these things, here is the type of email you could send to someone:

Dear SO and SO,

I came across your contact on [insert website or contact here.]

I am interested in such and such path and I think you could help answer some of my questions.

[List questions here. Some examples are ]-

What do I need to get started?

Are there any groups that you recommend?

I might be interested in joining your group? How can I do that? Do you have a formal intake process, pr are you a casual group?

Do you accept students? What does training with your group entail?

What books do you recommend?

Are there other groups in the area that might help me? Or suit my particular needs?

Thank you, sincerely,

New Seeker

And remember, whoever you email is under no obligation to respond, so if they do, remember to say thank you! They may or may not be able to help you, but make sure you let them know that you appreciate the fact that they took the time to give you any answer or advice. I see an important aspect of my Priestesshood as being someone that can give you the information to get you to the right Pagan path. I never mind if a stranger approaches me for that sort of advise, but I’m always really bothered when I don’t even get a quick “hey, thanks for the info!” Common courtesy never hurts anybody. “Please” and “Thank You” really are magical words.

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.

apple

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

Lughnasadh and the Goddess Tailtiu

And so we come to Lughnasadh and a full blue moon.

Lughnasadh, the beginning of the harvest season, often recognized as the first harvest; a festival that celebrates the first fruits, the sun god Lugh and games of skill.

In reality, this sabbat was originally about Lugh’s foster mother, Tailtiu, rather than Lugh himself.

Tailtiu was the last queen of the Fir Bolg. She is described in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, a famous history of Ireland:

§59. Tailltiu daughter of Mag Mor king of Spain, queen of the Fir Bolg, came after the slaughter was inflicted upon the Fir Bolg in that first battle of Mag Tuired to Coill Cuan: and the wood was cut down by her, so it was a plain under clover-flower before the end of a year. This is that Tailtiu who was wife of Eochu son of Erc king of Ireland till the Tuatha De Danann slew him, ut praediximus: it is he who took her from her father, from Spain; and it is she who slept with Eochu Garb son of Dui Dall of the Tuatha De Danann; and Cian son of Dian Cecht, whose other name was Scal Balb, gave her his son in fosterage, namely Lugh, whose mother was Eithne daughter of Balar. So Tailltiu died in Tailltiu, and her name clave thereto and her grave is from the Seat of Tailltiu north-eastward. Her games were performed every year and her song of lamentation, by Lugh. With gessa and feats of arms were they performed, a fortnight before Lugnasad and a fortnight after: under dicitur Lughnasadh, that is, the celebration (?) or the festival of Lugh. 
Unde Oengus post multum tempus dicebat, “the nasad of Lug, or the nasad of Beoan [son] of Mellan.” 

Tailtiu cleared a great forest in order for the Irish to plant the first fields. This feat exhausted her and when she was finished, she laid down at her castle and died. The Lughnasadh games were actually the funeral games held by Lugh in her honor.

Tailtiu is the great mother goddess. It is through her pains that the fields were cleared and the harvest was able to be born. She is also seen to be a goddess of childbirth and labor. Tailtiu’s death was a necessary part of bringing forth life for the people. So while people celebrated her life through her funeral games, they also mourned her death and Lugh himself is said to have sung her death song every year. Because of this, Tailtiu is said to have prophesied on her death bed that as long as Lughnasadh is celebrated, there will always be music in Ireland.

Tailtiu’s death was a part of the sacred king rites of Ireland. Tailtiu was a Queen at Tara, the seat of the High King’s of Ireland. She was also married to the last Fir Bolg ruler. While Nuada was the first of the Tuatha rulers, Lugh was his successor.The High King’s of Ireland married the goddess who was sovereign over the land itself. Without holding this sovereignty, no one could rule. Lugh could not marry his foster mother, but by celebrating the sacrifice that ensured the prosperity of the land, Lugh was certainly honoring that connection. Tailtiu is often seen as the dynastic link between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha de Danaan.

Lugh is the dying and reborn god, the sun and the grain in the fields. While Tailtiu cleared the land through her labor, it was Lugh who embodied the grain that grew in that land and was cut down for the harvest. Tailtiu didn’t birth Lugh physically, but she was certainly his mother in this sacred sense. Lugh is the young God that we cut down and sacrifice and who returns to the underworld and who is later reborn after the Goddess and the Old God marry. But he can only do this because of the original sacrifice of the Goddess.

So this Lughnasadh, while you dance and sing and make merry, also remember Tailtiu, the Great Mother whose death allowed the fields to grow so that the people could eat.

Enter Freely and of Your Own Will

This is from a column I wrote for The Pagan Household on June 3rd, 2013 and is a follow up to my last post:

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about magical etiquette. I thought I would expand on that topic a bit more and talk about what to do when you invite guests to your rituals.

When you invite someone to a ritual, don’t assume that they know or understand anything about what you’re doing, because, well…they probably don’t. Even if this person has been in the Pagan community for years, that does not mean that they will be familiar with the sort of ritual that you’re doing.

Make sure to give them some background about your group or tradition and explain what you’ll be doing in ritual. It can be confusing going to a new ritual; giving a guest some basic background information can help them understand your ritual a little better and allow them to ask appropriate questions. It also lets them know what they should be doing during ritual.

Explain your altar and the tools on it. Tell the guest a bit about why they’re there, what you will be doing with them and how the guest should act around them. Don’t want your guest to touch things? Tell them that, and explain why. You don’t have to give away secrets, you don’t have to go into a three hour lecture, you can just say hey…this is my athame, I’ll be using it to direct energy, please don’t touch it.

Make sure to explain any stances that you might be doing within ritual and let them know whether you expect them to follow along or not. I always explain what we will be doing at different points in ritual, why we do it and let the guest know that they can do the stance or feel free to just stand politely throughout. Not everyone’s comfort level is up to following along. It can also help to explain why you’re using a particular stance. In my rituals, we do a stance when we are calling quarters. It’s not only a stance that’s respectful, it’s also one that helps you ground the energy that we work with.  Clarifying things like this helps people be more comfortable with what they are doing.

And most importantly, explain what will be happening in ritual. Let them know what the point of the ritual is, what you will be doing at certain points and all the things that will be used in ritual. My significant other went to a ritual where they drank wine in the ritual. Sounds pretty standard right? It wasn’t until later that he found out that there was semen and menstrual blood in the wine. If you’re doing something like this, tell your guests, they have a right to know and the right to make a choice about whether or not to partake or to participate. If you’re going to be upset if someone does not want to partake or participate, then this is a ritual where you probably should not invite guests.

In this scenario, warning your guests about the possibility of death would be appropriate.

In this scenario, warning your guests about the possibility of death would be appropriate.

Make sure to take a minute or two here or there to see if your guest has any questions. This doesn’t have to take away from your ritual, there are always moments in ritual when you can pause and check on your guest. If there really isn’t a spot to pause, make sure to check in after ritual is over and make sure your guest understood everything that you did.

Rituals with guests should also not be long, drawn out affairs. People have a short attention span and when you’re a guest you aren’t usually expecting to end up participating in a five hour ritual. Would you want to be involved in a five hour ritual if you weren’t familiar with the people involved or a ritual that you weren’t familiar with? One of the worst rituals I ever went to as a guest ended up being a five hour ritual. Keep it short.

Having feast after ritual? Make sure to inquire into your guests dietary needs. If the person has a dietary need that you can’t meet, let them know that they should bring something that they can eat. Don’t wait until the meal itself to realize that you don’t have anything other than celery stalks for someone who is vegan.

There’s this idea in the Pagan community that you have to have perfect love and perfect trust for everyone in your ritual. (I see this a lot at public Pagan events). This comes from the line in the Wiccan Rede, which most Neo-Pagans misquote. The line is “Bide ye Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust”. This has nothing to do with loving and trusting everyone perfectly in a Circle; this is about the laws of the Wicca and really doesn’t have anything to do with non-Wiccan circles. This is a fallacy that is dangerous. If you have a guest, treat them like a guest. This is obviously someone you trust to a certain extent, since you’ve invited them to a religious ritual. This might even be a longtime friend that you do love and trust. Most of the time though, this is not the case. This is someone that you just met and they expressed interest in what you’re doing, or it’s a friend of a friend. Don’t hand someone your house keys just because you’re inviting them to your ritual. The gods are not asking us to be stupid.

Having a guest to ritual can be both fun and educational. It can help people understand a very important part of your life, or help them in being able to be a part of something different than what they usually do. But keep in mind that this is a guest and don’t expect them to understand everything. Think about how you would feel if you were going to a strange ritual and treat a guest accordingly. It’s easy enough to have a bad experience just because you don’t understand what’s going on around you. Sometimes the little explanations make the most difference.

Magical Etiquette 101

This was a column I wrote for the Pagan Household back on April 22nd, 2013:

I recently had an experience with a guest at my coven’s ritual, which is held in my home. This guest came in and, without asking, touched our altar and picked up tools. He also made negative comments about the way we do ritual. Needless to say, the evening only went down hill from there and the guest was not invited back.

This brings up magical etiquette, both in your own home and in the homes of others. There are a few basics that most people should be aware of. When you go to another practitioner’s house, never touch anything without permission. Everyone approaches their tools differently, and while it might be fine with permission, you should never just pick things up. This is extremely disrespectful. The same goes for altars and shrines. This isn’t just out of respect for the person who owns the altar or shrine, but for your own protection as well. Do you know what sort of work this person is doing? Do you want to inadvertantly become a part of anything they do in the privacy of their own home? Say they’re doing a love spell for a friend; what might be the results if you end up putting your energy into whatever work is being done?

This also goes for things that you might not take to be magical or religious in nature. You never know what that statue might mean to the person who lives there.

Not all of us, but most, intertwine our magical rituals with our religious ones. These are extremely personal workings that you just don’t get to butt into without permission. And this brings us to our next point; don’t make negative comments about the things you see. Our guest kept telling us that what we were doing was not what another group in the area did, and that therefore we were obviously doing things incorrectly. Why wouldn’t we use lines in our ritual that the other group used? You can see where this was quite offensive. When you go to someone else’s ritual, understand that they may not be working the way that you are used to. What they do is not wrong, it is simply different, and expecting them to change what they do to make you more comfortable is not appropriate. If you have that much of a problem with different rituals, you shouldn’t be the guest of another group in the first place. It is perfectly OK to turn down an invitation to a group’s ritual.

You might see something and disagree with how it was done, or think it should have been done differently. However, you are a guest. Ask about what you’ve seen in a positive manner. “That was a very interesting casting. May I ask why you do it that way?” is much more friendly than “I don’t do MY casting that way!” It’s offensive to force yourself into someone else’s workings and imply that you could have done it better.

When our coven has a first time guest in ritual, we explain what we will be doing, and we make sure to ask if the guest has questions at various intervals (it is actually part of the way we operate to assign certain coven members the task of making sure guests are informed and made to feel welcome). Most groups will do this if you are invited as a guest to ritual. You as the guest should expect a certain level of explanation about the ritual itself. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to learn all the secrets a group has, or be “trained,” but you deserve a basic explanation of the etiquette for the things that will be coming up in ritual. One of the worst rituals I’ve ever attended was so because there was no explanation of what was planned, and I didn’t know how to react to the things that were happening or what words to say at certain points.

If you are holding a public ritual, you also need to remember to do this. Do not assume your guests’ level of knowledge, experience, or tolerance level. A friend of mine told me about a ritual she went to that was for women’s spirituality. Sounds pretty standard right? It wasn’t until the priestess smeared something on her forehead in the middle of ritual that my friend found out that it was someone’s menstrual blood. Needless to say, smearing a stranger’s menstrual blood on someone else without explaining this sort of thing or asking permission is invasive in more ways than one. Think about what you are doing and ask people if they are OK with what is being planned, especially in cases where bodily fluids are being used.

It should also be pretty obvious that you shouldn’t insert any of your own energy into something without discussing it first with your host. Maybe your help will be welcomed and appreciated, but you can’t know without asking. Again, you don’t know exactly what a person is working toward and it’s arrogant and disruptive to assume.

Walking into another practitioner’s home should be like walking into anyone else’s home, the same basic etiquette applies. But unlike everyone else, where poking through someone’s medicine cabinet is probably not going to get you into trouble, poking your nose without permission into a practitioner’s workings might get you into a whole lot of trouble in ways that you won’t even see until six months down the road.

Don’t assume; always ask, and be aware that most things you see are probably not mundane. Look, don’t touch, and remember, you break it, you’re probably going to buy it, in a very metaphysical and unpleasant way.