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.

Pagans and Abortion

For the anniversary of Roe v. Wade I wrote a blog for Witches and Pagans about my own experience with abortion.

T. Thorn Coyle said it much more eloquently than I did. She said, “Death and life are inextricably intertwined. To deny a woman’s power over the workings of her own body is to deny her right to foster life itself.”

I am rabidly pro-choice. If you choose to have an abortion, at any stage, for any reason, that is your right. No ifs or buts.

The Pagan community is full of empowered women. But no woman can be empowered when she doesn’t have the right to choose what happens to her body. Being forced to bring a child into this world against one’s wishes is not something anyone should have to go through.

When I see people’s reactions to that original blog, I am profoundly saddened by the same sense of shame and ignorance from our community that you can find in any middle-American Bible Belt town.

We are a community that embraces all forms of love and intimacy. Why are we scared of discussing the validity of abortion?

It’s so important to tell our stories and experiences when it comes to this topic.

When I went to Planned Parenthood, I had to walk through protestors who called me horrible things. I had to be admitted through a locked entryway. I had to talk to a nurse behind bullet proof glass and I couldn’t take anyone back with me, when it came my turn to talk to the doctor, for the safety of the doctors and nurses in the clinic.

Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures there is and yet I was unable to have my abortion in a safe and comfortable environment with the care and support I deserved in a world of modern medicine.

I am not a Christian who believes that abortion will send me to Hell. I am a Pagan woman who knows that I have sovereignty over my entire self.

How can we empower women and not allow them to make this most basic, fundamental decision? I am worried that the Pagan community is losing sight of one of the most important aspects of what we are, a community of powerful women.

I recently had an experience at a local Pagan campground. I ran into a nineteen year old who was incredulous that I, who am almost thirty, didn’t have any children. She had two children, both of whom had already been taken by the state because she couldn’t support them. If this had been someone not raised in Paganism, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But she had been raised Pagan and she was just like every other uneducated, Christian girl I grew up with. When did we start forgetting to teach our daughters about how to care for themselves and their families? Was it when we asked that modestly be a value in our community?

I’ve seen a lot of arguments that state that abortion is against the Wiccan Rede. This infuriates me. The long term harm on a woman who is forced to carry a child to term that she can’t or doesn’t want to care for is much greater than the choice to rid your body of a clump of cells. The consequences of bringing a baby into the world that isn’t wanted has an effect on more than the mother who is forced to do so as well. Want to see the threefold law in effect? Then force that sort of pain into the world.

Our society already has unwanted babies it can’t care for. If you tell me adoption is a great option, I would ask, when did you last adopt a child? If you feel abortion is wrong, yet you do not help in caring for unwanted children, you are a hypocrite.

My only regret? Not being able to find Pagan resources that helped me deal with my anger and grief at having to make that decision.

I created my own ritual for healing that I did without any guidance.

I know of only one Pagan book that discusses abortion, and it was written by someone I don’t trust.

Where is our discussion of abortion in Paganism? Where are our resources? Why are we willing to ignore yet another part of the possibility of a woman’s reproductive life. We have maiden, mother, crone. We have menstrual rituals, birthing rituals, croning rituals: where are our rituals to deal with this choice?

Reading back through this, I know I sound I angry. Well, I am angry.

Angry that this sort of conservatism is encroaching on a community that treasures women’s lives.

The cycles of life and death are sacred. That cycle is reenacted through women’s wombs every month. Abortion is as much a part of that cycle as either pregnancy or bleeding.

I refuse to keep quiet about this particular topic. I refused to be ashamed of making the choice that was right for me. I refuse to give in to those who continue to try and entrap women by controlling their bodies. This is a choice that other woman out there go through everyday.

Abortion is a choice that everyone deserves to be able to have.

I’ll echo T. Thorn once again, because as always, she says it better.

I honor the cycles of life. I honor the cycles of death. I honor my power, as a priestess, to hold out a hand to both. I clasp those hands, bringing life and death together.

I am a priestess who balances life and death together continuously. I celebrate my ability to do so and to accept the pain and fear of hard choices in all aspects of life. Maybe if I do it, someone else won’t have to. Maybe by suffering and offering up my own pain, I can relieve some else’s.

Women’s rights are a battle we are far from winning, but maybe by speaking up and speaking out against the ignorance of others, we will get just a few inches closer.

And I celebrate other women who have made the same choice in the face of overwhelming fear and shame.

I celebrate those fierce warrior woman who stood up in the past to gain us the rights we currently have. I celebrate those women who continue to fight today to maintain them. I celebrate those who have had the courage to walk through the same protestors that I did.

As a priestess, as an independent woman, as a girl who grew up knowing that my choices defined the very core that makes up “me,” I refuse to give in to fear and hate. To do so goes against everything I believe in and everything I stand for.

You don’t have to approve of my own choice, but I would fight for you to be able to make a different one.

Choice is power. Choice is freedom. Choice is ownership over the self.

Without choice, we are nothing.

To Read the Rede

A discussion over on Camylleon’s blog reminded me of the fact that I’m pretty sure the Wiccan Rede is probably one of the most misunderstood pieces of Vogon poetry ever cited. I hate it when I walk into occult shops and see plaques with “And it harm none, do what ye will!” plastered all over. I see it on t-shirts and posters, pens and embroidered pillows. It just won’t go away. And needless to say, that wording isn’t even correct!

All in all, the Wiccan Rede has a lot of good stuff in it (even if it is horribly worded). But I think that it’s almost completely ruined by the fact that people like to ignore its entirety. When people focus solely on “An it harm none, do what ye will”, the importance of everything else it talks about is lost. People seem to forget that while that last line is a nice little bit of wording, it really doesn’t sum up the rest of the Rede, and that there are, in fact, many more lines to it (25 more, to be exact).

How come people like to entirely ignore the lines “Deosil go by the waxing moon, singing out ye Witches’ Rune, Widdershins go by the waning moon, chanting out ye Baneful Rune”? Isn’t this saying that there is a time and place for both light and dark? It also says, “fairly take and fairly give”. We see this with the Charge of the Goddess as well; people like to ignore that there is also a Curse of the Goddess, though it is much less known. The line “When misfortune is anow, wear the star upon thy brow” refers to shielding in defense of yourself. You can’t just cite one line of the Wiccan Rede without looking at other parts of the liturgy and understand that there is a greater whole. Unfortunately the world is not all puppies and rainbows. Wiccans get a bad reputation from their blindness in regards to this balance of good and bad. “An it harm none, do what ye will” would be great in an ideal world. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a much more complicated and scary world.

Maybe it’s because I started my Pagan life as a pirate and not a Wiccan. The Wiccan Rede is not the end all, be all of my ethical and moral decisions. You have to take these things with a grain of salt. There is always a dark side to the light. There’s a reason that darkness exists. It always goes back to being balanced. I don’t usually see things in shades of white and black. I live very much in the grey. One of the things the pirates discuss a lot is the fact that you need to know your shadow self. You need to understand your bad side and what that side of you is capable of. If you aren’t aware of this, you can’t guard against it. You have to acknowledge it to understand it and to understand why the things that part of you may want to do are wrong and why they should be restrained. If you want to put it a modern context, look at Freud’s idea’s of the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. Negative impulses exist, and always will. You can’t just sum up an entire ethical framework with something like “An it harm none, do what ye will”. Life is just not that simple.

We were just discussing the Grimm’s fairy tale Sleeping Beauty at a Pagan meetup. When the evil fairy shows up at the party to curse Sleeping Beauty, the last fairy who hasn’t yet given her gift cannot undo the curse that the evil one has given. She can mitigate it, make it much less severe, but once spoken, the curse can’t be entirely taken back. A friend of mine pointed out that you can also see this in the story of Esther in the Bible. The King can’t just take back his order for the massacre of the Jews; all he can do is allow the Jews to fight back. This is a good example of the threefold law. Anything you say or do, can never be entirely taken back. Usually, once something is said, it takes on a life of its own and the next time you hear it, it has grown threefold from whatever might have been originally. This is why the threefold law is so true. It’s not saying that you can’t ever cause harm, it’s saying that if you do, it’s going to grow much bigger than you expect and when it comes back on you, its going to have greater consequences than  you originally considered. It’s also saying that this is true of any good you put out there. “An it harm none, do what ye will” is therefore not as simple and straightforward as people like to misconstrue.

In the traditional Wicca of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Wiccans were not afraid of the dark side of the Craft. They recognized that when you worship Goddesses like Hecate, Cybele, Demeter, the Morrigan and Hel, you weren’t necessarily going to be working with “the light” all of the time. When you read Aradia it is full of death and violence and curses. People were not afraid to go after those who were attacking them. (Whether or not you believe that Leland was given something that was actually “true” Witchcraft, the book Aradia was certainly instrumental in shaping early Wicca). In the eighties, Wicca began changing into a much more “Neo Pagan” sort of religion and started to become side tracked with political correctness. The Starhawk generation changed Wicca into a pretty religion. Wicca lost its bite. It was at this point that the last line of the Wiccan Rede became the penultimate line.

For me, it comes down to accepting personal responsibility. You have to hold accountability for your actions and you have to know when an action is appropriate or not. Decisions like these are very rarely simple. And sometimes you have to stand up to someone who is malevolent and send everything that they’re doing to you back to them. What if you don’t and they go from you to someone who is much less able to handle whatever it is that they’re doing? We need to get over “An it harm none, do what ye will” and focus on how we can protect others who are in the Craft; by looking backwards, we can move our ethical thinking forward. There’s no reason the last line of the Rede can’t be a solid foundation for our Wiccan morals, but it isn’t the only way to approach life, especially when you want to ignore all of the Rede’s other ramifications.