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.

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Right and Wrong in the Pagan Community

My partner just wrote a blog for Pagan Square (which you can find here) about the history of the phrase “in perfect love and perfect trust”.

On Facebook, when Witches and Pagans posted the article, someone commented:

I found this comment to be more than a little ridiculous because the whole article is explaining the context of  how the phrase “in perfect love and perfect trust” was originally used and why it might be inappropriate when taken out of its original context. There was no militant Wiccan laws or judgements…just a “hey, this phrase isn’t talking about what you think its talking about, you might want to think about what you’re really asking about when you use it”, especially when you are interacting with people of many different Pagan backgrounds who will take it in many different ways.

But it also brought up a few things that I’ve been thinking about lately.

In the Pagan community, there is a blanket understanding that no one’s particular beliefs are “wrong”. And this in and of itself is great.

But this idea of no belief is wrong tends to lead to the idea that you can’t be wrong about anything. That if you tell someone that they are “wrong”, you become a negative and hateful person. People ask you why can’t you just live and let live? When you tell someone they’re wrong you become a rigid fundamentalist who is trying to force your way on everyone around you. I’ve seen this thrown at a great many respected priests and priestesses over the last few weeks.

I am baffled by this idea. Would you stand up in your college physics class and tell your professor that he knows nothing and how dare he try to tell you that for every action, there is not an equal and opposite reaction? Or argue with a math teacher that 2 + 2 does not = 4? Or would you go out, get your degree, go and find some practical experience and then come up with valid and logical theory that you then continue to experiment with for why these things are not actually the case?

I know, I know…religion is not science or math. Religious practice does not usually have the same straightforward sort of answers.

Or does it...?

Or does it…?

But sometimes there are some pretty straightforward answers. Not everything in the Craft is a great mystery of the Goddess or God that everyone needs to find a different path to. The example of what a Pentacle is from my last blog is a good example of this.

There are a great many people in the Pagan community who are trained and experienced priests and priestesses in all the many and varied traditions and groups that make up the Pagan umbrella. There are basic ideas and practices that have a “right” and “wrong” way of being done that these people usually spend countless amounts of time learning and then perfecting. It might vary by group or tradition, but you can actually be a Pagan and do something the wrong way!

I know, take a minute, sit down, deep breath…process that idea. I know, I know…it’s upsetting.

While you’re “refusing to be restricted by some rigid doctrine”, you’re also refusing to take the time to sit down and learn the history and background of what you’re doing. In my tradition, while you’re being taught and guided through the various initiatory levels, we talk a lot about how certain things are done within the tradition. When you get your initiation and hive off (3rd degree for hiving in my tradition), you then have the choice to change things, because it’s understood that in gaining that degree you have the proper background, instruction and understanding of how things have been done, to change them if you choose. Essentially, your learning is recognized as being enough to help these practices evolve into something new and possibly better. You’ve been given a diploma and told to go do your own experiments.

Just because your beliefs are personal, does not mean that everything else gets to be a free for all.

I’ve seen this a lot lately in comments on my own blog…the “Oh, don’t judge, live and let live, we’re all different and special“. Ummmm….actually, sometimes you are wrong. And it’s one thing to just be wrong about one thing or idea, but it becomes a whole ‘nother ball of wax when your lack of background, history and experience shoves you over into being unethical with overall ideas. In my last blog I wrote about a group who is claiming to teach Wicca and who are charging for their teaching. This is a pretty standard taboo across the board. I know of a few Wiccan groups who charge, but they will sit you down and explain to you why. While I don’t agree with them, they are upfront about what they are doing. This is the sort of area where “live and let live” gets people into trouble and sets up the possibility of abuse. I see charging students over a thousand dollars for initiation as a scam. These people are not learning Wicca, they are being fleeced.

I also think this gets to the heart of the current polytheist and humanist Pagan debate that has been raging through the Pagan blogosphere lately. As soon as someone with initiations and real training starts talking about why things have been done a certain way, people have started throwing around the term “fundamentalist”. When you start calling a group “rigid” and start throwing around the word “fundamentalist” at people who have gone through many long hours, days, and years of study on mythology, ritual, practice and interacting with a gods because they tell you that you’re doing something incorrectly, there’s a much larger issue going on. It’s one thing to say, “hey, I disagree with you, here’s why” and to start a discussion, it’s something completely different to instead say “you’re a fundamentalist and everything that is wrong with the world today” instead. This is not constructive debate.

For those who are all about the Paganism that is learned from a book…think of it like this. When you read a book and the author makes a claim, you check that the author has cited a source for why this claim is valid. These sources are the previous arguments that the current argument is built around. When you’re writing a book or paper, you, as the author, have the responsibility to prove that your ideas have a basis in other, proven, ideas. (And trust me, as someone who is currently publishing a book, editors are sticklers for these sorts of details even if you forget them!) Our trained priests and priestesses are our sources. Think about it, when you come across someone who is claiming they are a priest and priestess, but can’t give you any reasons why they are a priest and priestess other than that they decided to claim that title, do you respect their “wisdom” in teaching you what they don’t know?

Just because Paganism becomes an umbrella term and you may say, “well…I’m not Wiccan” or “I’m not a polytheist”, it doesn’t negate Craft teaching by people who are and have a great deal more training and experience in all areas of the Craft. Paganism does not mean whatever we want it to mean; there are actually some definitions out there that are relevant and important to anyone who is using them. If you want to go out and find real training and then debate the merit of these terms and ideas, have at, but quit reverting to name calling when someone points out the fact that you’re incorrect. While you may not like it, name calling only proves that you’ve already lost the argument.