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Death, the Universe & Everything

Posted by Sable Aradia on February 8, 2011 at 6:33 PM Comments comments (1)

My husband Erin recently spoke to me about a near death experience that happened during his nearly-fatal car accident. While this has been a very difficult process for him, I have found it to be spiritually uplifting and enlightening. His experience confirms and validates a lot of my own beliefs and experiences. I hope to share some of that with you here, but I don’t know how well it will come across. I will do my best!

 

Erin told me that he did not have the typically described experience of “light at the end of the tunnel.” He told me that instead, he felt personally connected to the Gods. He said also that for one moment, rather than his “life flashing before his eyes,” he was shown (or understood) all possibilities at once, and the likely outcome of any possibility that might have been and was likely to be up to that point, as these things related to himself and to the people he cared about. He says that he still remembers those possibilities and it informs his interactions and behaviour.

 

For me, this was similar (with less trauma) to the experience I had when I received my third degree. I was aware of that interconnectedness of all things, our unity with the Divine and how irrelevant time and space really are. As a precognitive, that “memory” of how things are likely to turn out has also been a part of me as long as I can remember. I can’t recall it all at once, but I have strong good or bad feelings about most significant actions in my life and the lives of the people I am closest to, which really feel more like memories than intuition. I often experience significant déjà vu when something is about to happen that is a turning point. So I often find myself in the awkward position of knowing things and trying to explain how I know it, with no way to do so. As a result, I often experience “Cassandra syndrome,” and my accurate prophecies and portents go unheeded. (This happens frequently regarding the car, for example. Men just never seem to take women seriously about misgivings regarding the mechanical deficiencies of a vehicle. I am not a mechanic, so when I say “that’s a weird sound, I think there’s something wrong with the front end, let’s get it checked,” they sneer at my ineptitude and ignore me because it would be inconvenient to heed my warning – and of course, the car inevitably breaks down, the repair is significantly more expensive than the maintenance might have been, and I sigh in exasperation.)

For me, this confirms several key elements of the nature of reality as I experience it and reinforces my beliefs. Not my dogma. I don’t think your dogma really matters, it’s all in the paradigm you use to understand the reality beyond this limited 3D reality. But here are the key points that I currently believe I have learned from this experience, and I would like to share them with you.

 

1) We continue. Death is not the end. Death is a waystation between realities, where you reunite with your loved ones. Where you go from there depends on your decisions as a unit. Perhaps you come back for another bite at the apple. Perhaps you seek to transcend this reality and become a bodiless, other-dimensional being. Either way, it is a break before the next step, whatever it might be.

 

2) Time and space are irrelevant. They are entirely 3rd dimensional constructs. All possibilities exist simultaneously beyond this dimension, and your next bite at the apple might be a thousand years in the past.

 

3) Anything is possible. If we are capable of accessing knowledge of all possibilities (even if it’s not all at once,) we can both anticipate the consequences of any action (muscle testing, pendulum work or divination, or just a good or bad feeling,) and influence probabilities in our favour towards one outcome or another (creative visualisation, the secret, or magick.

 

4) Everything does, indeed, happen for a reason. If it weren’t meant to be that way, you wouldn’t have made that choice, even the things that are apparently “bad.” That “bad” choice becomes the lesser of two evils, even in big bad situations.

 

5) Even death is a choice. We stay in this physical reality exactly as long as we choose to do so. Unfortunately, sometimes through extreme harm, or through the wearing of age, the body becomes so damaged that it is no longer possible for a person to experience any joy through that body, or becomes incapable of interacting with this reality at all. It is at this moment that death (which is not the end, but merely choosing to start the game over rather than stare at the frozen screen) takes place. If we change our minds at that moment, then we sometimes become stuck here – but that is far more rare than people think.

 

Erin told me that he had the choice of dying and abandoning me and our family, who would never recover, or living in a body that had a very good chance of being very broken, but living, knowing that I could handle it, as rough as it might be. He made the latter choice, and accepted the damage as a consequence (and I am grateful.) He also told me that his stepfather, who was shot in the head when Erin was young, was shown that his options were to die, leaving his young wife a widow with three young children, or to live with severe brain damage, requiring that his young wife with three children care for him as well, and chose not to burden her in that way. That’s why people live or die when their lives are imperilled.

 

Is that going to anger people, if I declare that I truly believe this to be the way it works? Perhaps, but for me, it comforted me in my fears of death. I know that we continue! And I know that no matter what happens, the greatest good is met as far as it can be by the people we love, even if they choose to pass from this world into the next. Sometimes your choice is the frying pan or the fire, and sometimes victories are, at best, Pyrrhic.

 

6) The best part of all of this is the knowledge that we are part of something that is much greater than us. Call it God, the Gods, Goddess, Source, the Brahmin, or whatever, it is very vast and to connect with it, even for a split second, is to experience wonder beyond our vaguest comprehension. My limited contact with this force has informed and transformed my life. It drives everything I do and inspires me in my darkest hours.

 

7) But even greater than that is the realization that part of us is a cell in this grand transcendent organism. And that means that all living beings are also cells in this grand organism. So, we are all interconnected, and we are all, essentially, Divine, and immortal! And that, to me, is a very empowering thought!

 

Blessed be,

A Bisexual Perspective on the Great Rite

Posted by Sable Aradia on January 29, 2011 at 6:22 PM Comments comments (0)

As I was researching the Eight Paths of Power videos that I did recently, I learned how little information there was out there concerning the Great Rite, and most of this limited information seems strictly heterosexual in its perspective. Many gay and lesbian Witches eshew the Great Rite as being irrelevant to them as a result. I don't believe that this is the case, and I think that this is one of that great Mysteries of our faith and to miss out on it is to miss something spectacular. But as a bisexual woman I understand the aversion to the practice that is a reasonable response to the apparent heterosexism, so I would like to address this concern, and offer a new way of looking at the Great Rite.

 

For those who may not be familiar, the Great Rite is a ritual act of sexual intercourse that represents the joining together of Deities, usually the Goddess and the God, as embodied by the High Priestess and the High Priest. They "Draw Down the Moon" and "Draw Down the Sun," which is a form of trance channelling, in which, respectively, the Goddess and the God are called into the bodies of, typically, the Priestess and the Priest. It may have its roots in "left-hand path" Tantra, and I can see why it seems heterosexist in its nature. Rather than repeat myself, since I just did the research on this for my video, I'm going to embed the video on the Great Rite here and you can watch it for more information on the left hand path of Tantra, etc.

Considering the Great Rite from a homosexual/bisexual perspective, we need to expand our viewpoint from the typical male/female, Priestess and Priest pairing.

 

One way to view this is to understand that we are working with the polarities of the powers of Creation. In that respect, these are "male" and "female" archetypes that we are working with; the animus and anima, the essence of the opposite gender that dwells within ourselves. From that perspective, our partner in the Rite serves as a vessel for the archetypical power that is within each of us; a means of communing with the Divine aspects within ourselves, or a communion with the raw force of Creation in the Universe. In that context, this is sperm and egg uniting to create, not male and female pairing for sex.

 

I mentioned briefly in the video that some traditions believe that only women can Draw Down the Moon, and only men can Draw Down the Sun, and others believe that it is an essential skill for their Priestesses & Priests to be able to do either. You can also do this outside of the Great Rite, but in the context of the Rite itself, if one of the partners in question feels comfortable working with the energies of the opposite gender, you can do that. I can address this from my own experience, having Drawn Down the Sun several times, and once having done so within the context of the Great Rite to initiate a High Priestess friend of mine. It was a very powerful and effective experience. You can expand on this and use whatever props seem appropriate for the situation and your comfort level. (To elaborate, we felt that the God required a phallus, so we provided one. That may not be appropriate or desirable for everyone, however.)

 

Some gay/lesbian couples may not like the strong masculine energy of someone like Herne, or the overwhelmingly feminine energy of, say, Demeter. In that case, I suggest working with deities who bent or broke the gender lines in their myths; and there really is no shortage! Some suggestions I can think of off the top of my head include Aphrodite, Mother of Hermaphrodite (who in some circles was called "the hairy,') Hermes (who was the father of Hermaphrodite, from whom we get the word in the first place,) Hermaphrodite Him/Herself, Baphomet (also a hermaphrodite,) Loki (who turned into a mare and gave birth to Sleipnir after "distracting" a stallion,) and Thor (who crossdressed to get His hammer back.) I am sure there are many more and I invite anyone reading this blog to add to the list in the Comments. Other Deities that never really crossed the gender lines but who may be especially appropriate to gay men or lesbians include Pan (very popular among gay men for His rampant, playful male sexual energy,) Artemis (who, of course, was said to prefer the company of women,) and Ares (patron of Sparta; I can't think of any stories of Him crossing the gender lines Himself, but obviously He has no objection to homosexuality among men, and He was the God that I Drew Down in the Rite I mentioned previously.)

 

I don't really see any reason, while I have never done this myself, that you could not address the polarity in a whole different, non-gender oriented kind of way, or work specifically with a homogenous energy balance instead of a polarity based one. One blog I encountered recently presented an intriguing possibility for gay men in Drawing Down the Holly King and Oak King, which I can picture as a very powerful and intimate experience! The Life/Death principle might also be an excellent polarity to work with (say, Inanna/Erishkigal, Persephone/Hecate, or Sun King/Winter King.) The same blog also presented the idea of the dynamic Trinity ( Brother, Father, Son or Father, Son, Lover; for women this extrapolates easily into Maiden, Mother, Crone - this path equates nicely with the Three Souls concept of Feri Tradition and those influenced by it). The dynamic Trinity might work quite well for a polyamorous same-gendered trio!

 

There is also the unique gay/lesbian magick of "the power calling to itself," as our friendly blog-writer Storm Fairywolf put it. In this respect, the Great Rite could be used to reconcile with an aspect of ourselves that we are not comfortable with. The Gemini balance; the Shadow Self; or a new aspect, such as a Mother stage Witch embracing her imminent Croning, a young male Witch about to be a Father embracing that aspect, a Father stage Witch accepting his Sagehood, or a Maiden Witch becoming comfortable with her Warrior aspect.

 

Storm Fairywolf also suggests the idea of an elemental balance of Great Rite for polyamorous relationships, best done with four or five partners. I think I might try this some day; what a powerful experience of the elements and their interactions and dynamics that would be!

 

We have only begun to understand this ancient magick in a modern context, but if you understand the Great Rite as a metaphor for the forces of creation, life and death and rebirth coming together, it can be re-imagined into infinite possiblities that explore numerous aspects of the dynamics of the forces which are the building blocks of our universe, and transcend the ego to grasp an expanded consciousness that is connected to all things - which is, ultimately, the point. I urge you to explore it in your own way and not allow previously offered models to limit you. Instead, if you have any room in your path for sacred sexuality, use it as a starting point and commune with the Divine as you see It/Him/Her/Them!

 

Blessed be,

-----------------------------------------------------

Sources:

 

1. "Queer Sex Magick" by Storm Fairywolf; http://www.faerywolf.com/essay_sexmagick.htm; accessed Jan. 26, 2011.

2. "Beltane - Aphrodite" by Maureen Reddington-Wilde, as published in Devoted to You: Honoring Deity in Wiccan Practice (Harrow, Judy & others), 2003 Citadel Press.

The Three Degrees of Wicca: Birth, Death, and Love

Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 8:36 PM Comments comments (0)

An initiation ceremony, in any tradition, religion or path that has one, is intended to illustrate a Mystery and confer a Rite of Passage, by making the subject of the ritual into the protagonist of their own mythic story. A properly performed initiation ceremony takes the recipient into the living realm of the Hero’s Journey that Joseph Campbell wrote about. The Hero is called, propelled or forced into leaving his/her familiar home and entering on an adventure; s/he is tested by a guardian at the threshold who challenges his/her right to enter; if she passes the test, s/he descends into the Underworld, fights the monster or defeats the challenge, learns the lesson, and takes his/her newfound wisdom back to the mundane world, to teach it to others or share the lessons s/he has acquired.

 

Many Witches from an initiatory tradition believe it is the “Apostolic Succession” aspect of the initiations that are important – “only a Witch can make a Witch.” I don’t agree. While I like the connection to Witches that have gone before me, for me it’s the conferring of the Mystery that is the important element. Receiving the initiation, becoming the Hero in the myth, learning the Mystery, and later passing it down to others, informs our faith and thealogy, and passes on a great mystical truth in a direct and real way that other forms of teaching cannot possibly imitate.

 

But, I don’t believe that a formal initiation is the only way to learn these essential Mysteries of the Craft. I think that if you undertake the Wiccan path, even as a solitary, life will try to teach you these Mysteries anyway, as you call upon the Wiccan gods and change your thoughts and spirit to become a better Witch. I think having someone who can help to guide you through this makes the process a lot easier than trying to figure it out for yourself, but if you do the training and the study, and work to better understand the Craft, you will receive the lessons anyway; whether you consciously want them or not. I see this happening to many Witches out there, many of whom have no idea what’s going on. This article is about my thoughts on the matter, a way in which I try to understand the Mysteries based in my experiences. It’s not the only way to understand them, but maybe it might help someone else out there grasp that which cannot be properly described or explained, even by those who have experienced them.

 

The three degrees of Wicca, as I understand them, are about Mysteries of the human condition, and can be likened to stages and experiences in our own, everyday lives. These stages are not easily comprehended and are so vast in their scope and understanding, that we spend our whole lives trying to grasp their full implications, and we fear them instinctively. Initiations teach us greater, mystical truths about these vast experiences and teach us not to fear them, which I believe improves our quality of life as a whole.

 

The First Degree: Birth

 

The first degree of Wicca is about birth.

 

When we are born, we come into the world blind and helpless. We are forced into an unfamiliar and frightening situation by someone else. We are greeted by authority figures, who tell us what the rules are and what is expected of us. We are taught how to interact with our world through tools and rituals, and told what we are expected to do with them. Assuming the circumstances of our birth or early childhood are somewhat like the “normal” family unit, we are welcomed “in perfect love and perfect trust,” and told that we are valued and we have a place.

 

The first degree of initiation imitates this experience. We are blindfolded and bound, and reminded that while this was our choice to begin this process, we are not entirely in control of it (“feet neither bound nor free, for once we have taken the first step on the path, the gods will guide our destiny."); We are thrust bodily into the circle, but only once we have given the passwords and stepped through the threshold, the knife at our hearts and the charge made. We are presented to the Quarters, and presented our tools and instructed in their use. Then our Priest/ess welcomes us with the Fivefold Kiss. The cingulum, like an umbilical cord, is fastened about us and used to take our measure. The Priest/ess tells us that the measure was kept as a way of harming the new Witch in the old days, when we were required to keep things secret, but now it is given back to us “in perfect love and perfect trust,” just as our parents start with the power to control every aspect of our lives and survival, but then give us our own autonomy and trust that ultimately, we will act as our own moral compass. We are welcomed into the coven and our arrival is celebrated, just as we are welcomed into the family unit upon our births.

 

The first degree initiation ceremony of Wicca is a rebirth into life as a Witch, and a welcoming into a new “family” – the coven. For those whose lives do not reflect a similar experience in their families of origin, birth into the Craft can serve as a therapeutic “re-write” of that botched process. It can be very healing and empowering. This makes sense. Statistically, most Witches and Pagans who come to the path have issues of abuse, depression, or other psychological suffering, and I believe that reclaiming that personal power is one of the most significant factors that draw us to Wicca.

 

In the early days of the Craft (I’m not talking about prehistory, I’m talking about Gardner’s and Alex Sander’s covens,) no one was even taught the basics of Witchcraft before being initiated. Now, of course, there are thousands of books, and if a Witch ever decides to initiate into a coven, s/he has likely been practicing the Craft for many years already. The rebirth represented by the ceremony symbolizes a deeper commitment to the practice and faith of Wicca, and I think this is why many people choose not to experience it.

 

Nonconformity is another reason that many people never receive initiation, but why do people become nonconformists? Generally, I think it’s because for whatever reason, they did not connect, nor feel that they fit in, with their family of origin. I think all Witches are nonconformists at heart (otherwise in the Western world, we would be atheists or Christians) and many of us carry that lingering fear of rejection by another group, since we have already been rejected by our group of origin.

 

If we choose not to join a coven or another group, we eventually reach a point in our practice where the symbolic rebirth becomes necessary for us to progress. This manifests directly in our lives in many possible ways.

 

Sometimes, everything we thought we knew ceases to be relevant to us and we are forced to change our basic ways of thinking at the core. Sometimes, we suddenly find ourselves in a position where we are required to leave everything we know and start completely over, such as moving to a new town to start a new job, or leaving a long-term relationship and the home environment is was shared in. Sometimes, we realize that the time has come to take this step and we self-initiate or self-dedicate. This likely happens for those who do choose initiation as well, but they usually (presumably) have a mentor to guide them through the process. For the “black sheep,” however, this self-dedication might be more empowering than joining a coven, because she is re-writing her past to reclaim control over her own destiny, as opposed to leaving in the hands of a family unit who did not successfully make her feel welcome and/or like part of the unit.

 

I believe that this step is as valid as a coven initiation if the oaths are sworn seriously, but like any Rite of Passage, when a person swears oaths before witnesses they are often more binding than if we swear them in private. Social pressure aids in the keeping of them. That’s why marriages require witnesses to be valid.

 

What are the lessons learned here? Above all, I think, we are taught that we can rewrite our own destinies and choose our own paths, no matter where we come from, and that doing so will not destroy us, because we are greater than the roles that we believe the world has assigned to us.

 

The Second Degree: Death

 

The second degree is about death. It’s a hard lesson, and many of us get stuck here. While I have no bias one way or the other about whether it is harder to deal with the first degree as a solitary or a coven member, having practiced in both ways, I definitely think that having guidance makes the second degree easier.

 

This is the meat and bones of the Hero’s Journey; the descent into the Underworld. It is a death of the ego, and a realization that we are much, much more than just this simple being we define as our “self.” It’s hard, because the hardest lessons of life usually happen in this stage. And it’s almost unfair. We just spent the first degree process developing our sense of self-esteem and becoming empowered. Now, we are expected to give up that power, symbolically offer our swelled heads to the chopping block, and remake everything that we thought we were.

 

A Witch is ready for the second degree when he becomes a teacher, and I believe that sooner or later, this is inevitable. When people begin coming to you for guidance, you can almost be guaranteed that the second degree will ensue imminently. This happens whether teaching others is something that you wish to do, or not. It is something that is generally unexpected, and I think that almost without exception, everyone handles it badly. Either we swell up with our pride that someone is coming to us for guidance (“High Priestess’ Disease,”;); or we hide behind false modesty, refusing to accept the level of responsibility that our now-respectable skills and knowledge have conferred upon us. Somehow, we have to overcome the temptation of ego (too much or too little,) listen to our inner voice, and carry on out of the Underworld with the secret knowledge that we have, hopefully, obtained.

 

More difficult yet, we have to do this while suffering the pains of the world, because this is about death! Every issue we have ever had appears in our lives to challenge us and try us, and we are purified in the smelting process. It is often just as painful. You can take heart, if you are practitioner of the Pagan path and your life truly sucks, and bad luck just seems to keep happening to you, that you must be on your way! Unfortunately, you’re probably doomed for things to continue that way until something changes and you learn whatever lesson the Universe wants you to learn!

 

This is the most frustrating stage of development, the darkness before the dawn. It becomes easy to fall into a trap of self-pity. But you must be purified in order to progress. As the poet Rumi said, “If the stone is irritated at every rub, how will it be polished?”

 

You can make this process easier by engaging in a symbolic death ritual as part of your second degree initiation. I believe that even if you choose a solitary path, you can find a way to imitate this death ritual for yourself.

 

Ancient shamanic cultures required that all prospective shamans actually have a near-death experience or suffer maiming. As a matter of fact, that was considered a sign from the spirits that a person ought to be trained as a shaman. So, if you don’t make a near-death experience for yourself, the gods will make one for you. Be warned!

Yet, this is the degree at which covens “pass the power” on to other Witches. Only by journeying through the Underworld can the Hero claim his power, and then it is our sacred duty, once we have received it, to bring it back to the rest of the world and share, to the best of our ability or to those who come asking, what we have learned.

Just like Darth Vader in Star Wars, sometimes we do not pass the test and we are not willing to sacrifice our egos to the chopping block. You’ve all seen these individuals; they’re the ones that give High Priestesses and coven Witches a bad name by tripping on their own power and being full of themselves. Our lives continue to suck and we wonder why. If this is happening to you, ask yourself, “What am I doing? What am I not doing? What is the world trying to tell me?” Consult your Tarot cards, consult your friends, and consult your enemies! They are excellent teachers.

 

But saying that we do pass the test, like anyone else who has been through a difficult time, many of us find meaning by sharing our hard-won lessons with those who are willing to listen.

 

This is not to say that those of us who have been through this process are in any way perfect! Life is a series of lessons and we learn as we go. We make steps backwards as well as forwards. Just try to keep the Rede in mind, consider the consequences of your actions, and do your best.

 

Often, others challenge a person in this stage. Just remember that not everyone who is confident in their skills and knowledge is an egoist, and if you are finding such an individual threatening, maybe you should be asking yourself why. At the same time, anyone who would lead or teach should make a constant accounting of oneself to oneself. Just try not to take everything the world says personally. I’ve heard it said that if you don’t have any enemies, you probably aren’t doing anything worthwhile.

 

The Third Degree: Love

 

The third degree is about Love, and how we become something much more than the sum of our parts when our Love joins us together.

 

I suppose I’m breaking tradition by speaking of the third degree initiation process, but the internet will already tell you what happens there, and you can even find the full ritual as detailed in Gardner’s own Book of Shadows at http://www.sacred-texts.com. At least, you can find Gerald Gardner’s ritual. Every tradition and coven will have their own process by which the third degree is conferred, with an infinite variation of details. Some are so hung up on those details that they will claim that initiations are invalid if the postulant is spun into the circle in the wrong direction! I think this is just arrogance and pettiness, born of the fact that some people in some traditions had to work very, very hard, for a very long time, to get their degrees. But in order to reach a point where you are ready for the third degree, you will have had to work very, very hard, no matter whether you have been primarily a British Traditional Witch, a Dianic Witch, a Strega, a Hereditary Witch, or a mostly-solitary eclectic. And if you have not been “properly prepared” by your studies and experiences when you do receive your degree, the gods will make sure you are caught up in a hurry. In that case, I think sympathy, rather than resentment, is more appropriate! That is a really rough ride!

 

So, most traditions are exceptionally choosey about whom they choose to acknowledge as a High Priestess or Priest, and rightfully so. If you receive the degree before you are ready, you will not understand the experience. Many second degree initiates, caught up in their efforts to accept ego-death, are pushy and resentful of this. They feel their teachers are being arrogant as well. It is more than a little like Daniel in the Karate Kid, actually. He was assigned to specific tasks that for all appearances were Mr. Miyagi taking advantage of him to get his yard cleaned, while in actuality, he was learning basic repetitive techniques that were the foundational practices of his art.

 

Try not to take it personally. According to Judy Harrow, High Priestess, psychologist and Wiccan author, it takes us an average of ten years to receive our third degree these days! There is a lot more to learn than there was 50 years ago for our High Priests and Priestesses. Since it only takes about seven or eight years to get a doctorate, why do we feel we are entitled to a third degree after a couple of years of study? It (usually) isn’t a personal affront, or a popularity contest, when your High Priestess says you are not yet ready, even if someone else who had been practicing for less time is. Since we have no formal checklists of specific information that you need to know, it is partially guided by feel and intuition; just as a Masters’ thesis requires some personal judgment to rate.

 

Love is the hardest lesson in life that there is. Most of us fail at it; you just have to look at the divorce rate to know that. How can we expect to understand it in a couple of years?

 

In many ways, training for, and receiving, a third degree, artificially ages us. Quite on its own, Life will teach us about Love, and more importantly, how Love will transcend time, space, and death, to leave a legacy behind us that will affect all of humanity (and perhaps other races as well) and change the course of our evolution. That is why some traditions (the Dianic tradition, for example) acknowledge life stages as opposed to conferring degrees, and you will not be ready for the Love Mystery until you have reached Queen or Crone. If you have successfully learned what you needed to know in your second degree, you have come to terms with the realization that “luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” 1 Now, in understanding that, you are ready to experience it. But whether you wait for Life to teach this to you, or whether you experience the rite that should teach this, you must experience it with others. You cannot experience this Mystery alone.

 

In the third degree initiation ritual, you Draw Down the Moon or the Sun, and typically you engage, either symbolically or in token, in the joining ritual of the Great Rite. Why is it done this way?

 

Only through the process of experiencing yourself as a Divine Being, connected to the gods, you as a part of Them and They as a part of you, do you realize how truly transcendent you are! If you have done this, you will know for a fact that time and space are irrelevant, and that we do not truly die, but are completed in the consciousness that is the Divine, which connects all of us and each of us is a part of.

 

In traditions that utilize polarity, the force of Creation is understood as a joining-together of opposites, a balance of Mother and Father, who come together through Love to create the Divine Child, who is a little bit of His/Her Parents, but something more than either. When male and female come together in desire and Love, they perform a ritual and invoke the most ancient of magick, the force of Creation itself. A piece of each of the participants bonds to one another and then, through a process that is not comprehended by the greatest minds of our species, divides and transforms into something wholly other, and greater than either one. We call this “conception.” Though parents delight in finding similarities between themselves and their children, invoking this ritual unleashes forces that we cannot entirely control. Certainly the struggles of parenthood, as we watch our children make choices that we don’t approve of, confirms this! I can’t help but wonder if it was the same for our Divine Parents when they chose to create us. Did they expect that we would make the choices that we make?

 

In any case, in this way, our legacy, and the future of our people, our culture, and everything that we are, only continues through our descendants. We can choose two different ways to contribute to that great legacy. The most obvious is to invoke the ritual of Creation and make those descendants to carry on after we are gone. The other is to make a significant contribution to the body of knowledge of future generations. For those who choose not to create children, or those who cannot, this alternative method of contribution may be of even greater significance than the first, because it advances our evolution on a social, spiritual, intellectual or cultural level. This includes the efforts of all those who choose to raise children and be active parental figures in a child’s life, whether they lent the genetics to the formation of that child or not.

 

This is the other part of the secret of the third degree Mystery, the Mystery of Love, which is taught and experienced in Wiccan traditions that do not utilize polarity, such as the Dianic or Reclaiming traditions. Generativity, the urge to make our mark on future generations, is satisfied by teaching the generations yet to come. It is for this reason that these sorts of contributions are encouraged and acknowledged in Wicca, from instructing students of the Craft, to writing, to being politically active, to creating moving works of art. Only when we understand how we can advance the human race, and the state of the world, do we understand the Mystery of Love. And, I believe we can only truly understand this by working with others. How else can we make a difference in the lives of others? As my friend and initiator, High Priest Rainwalker, Lord Redleaf (Jamie Field) said to my husband and me, “Wicca is an individual pursuit, best practiced in groups.”

 

Life will teach you this lesson on its own. If you live long enough to see your children become adults, or to watch how your ideas and cultural contributions have influenced the next generation, you have learned the Mystery of Love and its resulting generativity. But you can learn this through joining with the forces that we call the gods, Who reside within each of us, as well, and that is what the third degree initiation ritual endeavours to do. This is why those traditions that do not make use of Great Rite simply acknowledge an existing state of wisdom that has been acquired through deeds or Rites of Passage through a formal ceremony of recognition.

 

Ultimately, it really is about that transcendent union with the Divine, the Mystery we call “Drawing Down the Moon” or “Drawing Down the Sun” (which, for those who might not be familiar, involves “channelling” the Goddess or the God and either speaking as They direct us or allowing Them to speak through us.) Doing this gives us a direct connection to the Divine current, and we learn that we are all interconnected through that Divine current, which is beyond all space-time. This is the essence of all Love; sensing that interconnection to all beings, and wanting to contribute to it in a positive, significant way. That, to me, is what the third degree of Wicca is all about.

 

To refer back to our Hero’s Journey, through the three degrees, we have now come full circle. The Hero leaves voluntarily, or is propelled, into adventure (“feet neither bound nor free,"); whereupon he is required to enter into the Underworld and face the Guardians and dangers there (“art thou willing to suffer in order to learn?”;) Upon learning the wisdom of the Underworld and defeating its challenges, he learns that this wisdom has no value until it is returned to, and shared with, the world. So the Hero returns, and shares his hard-won lessons, because he realizes that he, like all humanity, is also Divine; and that is the Mystery that needs to be shared (“if you do not find that which you seek within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you since the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.”;)

 

I invite you to lose yourself in the myth!

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1. Yoda has lots of brilliant things to say about faith in general and Pagan faith in particular. I make my students read a book I happened to find in a bargain bin at Chapters called “Star Wars and Philosophy.” Good stuff.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

Witches Amongst You

Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (1)

Reprinted from Issues Magazine, July & August 2010 Edition:

 

On the evening of the Spring Equinox, I cleaned up my shop and removed all my store literature from the front table where you walk in. I placed the altar cloths, one with a sun and moon image against a blue background, one with the cycle of the moon and goddess symbols and a labyrinth on a blue background, over top of each other to create a pleasing scene. I set out two candleholders; one with the image of the Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone, holding a white candle, and one with the God of the Woodland as Holly King and Oak King, holding a black candle. Between them we symbolize the balance of Sun and Moon, male and female, old and young, life and death. Balance and cycles are important in our faith, which we call Wicca.

 

I laid out the magickal tools; my hand-painted wood pentacle with the vine pattern on it, representing the element Earth; the red candle representing Fire; the brass incense burner representing Air; and my two white agate chalices, one filled with water and the other apple juice, that represent Water. I added our dish of salt and the offering bowl. I laid out my wand, made from a maple branch from a tree in the yard I grew up in that, magickally, had been struck by lightning twice, and my athame; my sacred black-handled, double-bladed knife, with which I cut nothing but air. Mine is unusual in that I made it myself, forging it from a strip of metal a couple of years ago at a workshop and beating it into shape, then carefully wrapping the twisty hilt in black suede to make it comfortable to grasp. Next to it I laid my husband’s athame, which is carved from jet. I added the silver offering plate, this time filled with chocolate eggs, and our Book of Shadows.

 

I welcomed the gathering of witches as they arrived. Among them were friends from Kelowna I hadn’t seen in a long time. I embraced them happily and started catching up on their lives. Two new witches I had never seen before also arrived from Kamloops, wearing beautiful velvet robes that one of them had made. I asked them if I could take a picture to sell them through my store! They laid out their potluck offerings on the glass counter where I keep the crystals. Erin, my husband and Priest, who is always so good at making new people feel comfortable, began to chat with them.

 

A family who’d had trouble finding us arrived; one of them asked where to put the potluck offering and I told them. The next thing I knew, they were gone! We debated on what had happened to them and decided they must not have known what Wicca meant when I advertised the event in the paper. We assumed a combination of things happened, including seeing the witches from Kamloops in robes.

 

I’m never sure why people react like that. I don’t see how what we do is any different from other earth-based spiritualities that are more commonly known and accepted. We take our roots from Celtic and Germanic “shamanic” customs and practices, women’s spirituality and empowerment, and other more modern forms of mysticism like the Kaballah. Why is this so scary?

 

I often get reactions from people when they find out that I define myself as a witch. I assume that people think our magick is the kind that harms others or interferes with their free will, but a real Witch would never do things like that. A real Witch believes in the Threefold Law, “That which you do shall be returned to you threefold.” Even if I were inclined to be manipulative or malignant, would I want that delivered back on myself three times worse?

When we realized the others weren’t coming back, we gathered in a circle around the table (now an altar) to begin the ceremony. As is our custom, I took the sacred broom, called a besom, and swept around the circle to banish negative energy while singing songs. Then my husband took his athame, and drew a circle around the group, as we visualized a beacon of white light that grew into a bubble to protect us from any negative energies.

 

Then we “Called the Quarters,” which is similar to honouring the directions in shamanism and Native paths. We started with the North, associated with Earth, and called on those energies, honouring them with salt. Next, we honoured and called upon the element of Air in the East by lighting incense. Then, we honoured/called upon Fire in the South by lighting the red candle. Lastly, we honoured/called upon Water in the West by sprinkling a little water. Then I called upon our Goddess; in this case, the Maiden of Spring, called by some Persephone, called by some Ishtar, Oester or Easter. We welcomed Her return to the world, and spring’s blooming! My husband called upon our God in the form of the Sun King, called by some as Lugh, Apollo, Osiris, Dionysus, or Jesus, bringing life from barrenness. We honoured Them as well by singing Beauty of the earth, White moon on the water, You are She Whom we find, At the end of desire. Horned God, Dancer on the Wheel, Born and died and born again, And we all are dancing with Him.

 

Then we engaged in what we call the “fellowship;” basically, socializing as part of the ritual. We munched on the potluck offerings as I chatted. One of the Kelowna witches (men and women have the same title) talked about how he was devoting most of his time to school, and it was paying off with excellent marks. I asked about an event coming up in Alberta that I’d never been to, and told them about the event we were doing in Cherryville on the Canada Day weekend.We were told of a young man with a brain tumour so we took a hematite ring and passed it around our circle, intoning “OM.” We did this to fill the ring with the healing vibration of the sacred word that associates with the Crown chakra. After we all touched it, we gave it to his mother, who proclaimed it was making her hands tingle!

 

After that, we blessed our food and drink and said to each other “May you never hunger,” and “may you never thirst,” as we acknowledged the Divine in each of us. After that, we thanked the Goddess and the God for Their presence and released the Quarters or closed the directions. Lastly, my husband cut open the circle with his athame, saying, “The circle is open, yet ever it remain a circle; merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again!” We sang our traditional song and went our separate ways. As I left, I looked up at the rising half-moon, enjoying Her beauty.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

A Message from Gaia

Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 8:32 PM Comments comments (0)

In the Psychic Development class that I am currently doing with Lois, we were directed to do an exercise in automatic writing. I haven't had any experience with automatic writing, so I asked for "the idiot's explanation" for how to do it. Lois' Guide explained it as "just like Drawing Down the Moon; you have to get yourself out of the way, and then instead of using your vocal apparatus, you use your hands." I had that eureka moment; that made perfect sense to me! "Yeah!" I thought to myself, "I can do that!"

 

We agreed that we would commune with Gaia, as an entity (Deity) that we all would be happy to work with (two Witches, a Shaman, and a Spiritualist.) We then did a meditation to focus our awareness, and understanding things from this perspective, I went within and found that connection fairly quickly. I then sat down in front of the computer, closed my eyes, and listened as Gaia dictated the following:

 

I weep for the wounding you cause to yourselves! I struggle to reach out to you. You do not know your own power; you are brilliant, perfect, passionate and free. The chains that bind you are the ones of your own making. They are illusions. They are only as real as you permit them to be. How can you not hear the cry of your brothers and sisters, with whom you share this earth? Why do you deny yourselves, and allow yourselves to live in fear? Reach beyond these things! You do not have to be taught how to feel the love/pain/passion of the creatures you share this place, this body of Mine, with. You just need to remember.

Take a moment now and reach out, reach like you did when you were a child. First, take your arms to the sky. Look into the sun and the clouds above you. Watch the clouds rolling past, gently shifting and changing. Do you remember what it was to feel you could touch the sky? Reach out with your arms, and your awareness, and then when you have floated through the clouds long enough to lose yourself in them, just do it! You can fly. Like the transformation of Arthur when he learned to be a Druid, you can transcend the limits of your physical form and soar with the birds, sail on the clouds, touch the Macrocosm that is the Star Goddess or Father Sky. Let your heart lift you into that free space. Here, there is no time and no space; there is only you and your heart.

And now, can you see the other hearts that share this space/time with you? When you realize that you are not constrained by matter, you know that you can do anything, be anything, connect to everything and all. You are luminous beings of light and stars and love. Release your limitations and inhibitions and just BE.

Now, look to My body beneath you. Do you see Me? No, you see lights, and cities, and fields, but where are My wild places where you can reach Me? Hidden in the street lights and the concrete and the smog. But My loves, I am still here. And now, some of you are beginning to awaken to that knowledge.

Sit very still, or lie still, with your body touching Mine. Lay on grass or rock or sand; do not lay on the floor. Stretch your arms out now and touch Me! I am real, and solid, and like you I have a body. Mine is just bigger, and slower. The cycles of your life are echoes in the cycles of My seasons. It’s just slower for Me. To My eyes, you are all flickering brief candles, passing in and out of the world like winking starlights. But you are part of My body, just like each organ and tissue that you have in your bodies. So understand, you are not a cancer or a blight, as some have said. You are meant to be here at this moment in time/space. You are like a baby growing in My womb, and you are taking over My resources and draining My energy, and you are growing faster than I am ready for, but you are just infants, zygotes, growing and changing and dividing and determining who you are.

All you have to do to complete this cycle is finish your growth, change, and Awaken! Stop resisting the birth pangs; you have no choice to be born. If you do not, both of us will die. Awaken, accept that change is necessary and that there will be growing pains, and know that I always love you and I am waiting to catch you in My arms, when your consciousness is awake enough to speak to Me at last.

 

I felt the need to share Gaia's message and so I'm posting it here. I will also be posting this on the new the Medium, the Witch, and the Shaman website, where you will also find Vicky's message from Gaia.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

The Need for Pagan Clergy

Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 8:28 PM Comments comments (0)

This entry is slightly modified from a thread that I was responding to on Facebook, which began with a post from Juniper Jeni's lovely blog, Walking the Hedge: The Rambles and Wanderings of a Canadian Hedgewitch. Her rant/blog post was called "Regarding Pagan Clergy," posted October 15, 2010.

 

As someone who thinks of herself as "Pagan clergy," and who has that legal number that lets me marry people and whatnot, I see the role of "clergy" as being exactly like Juniper says: facilitators, organizers, and another role that wasn't mentioned: counsellors. Even Witches need someone to call when they are having a crisis in their lives to help them to find ways to communicate with their Gods (yes, though their own power, we are Pagans,) to support them in their happy and in their difficult times, and to be someone to talk to. As clergy, I have "solemnized" handfastings (ie. performed a ritual and signed a piece of paper so the government would say that this couple was, indeed, married,) counselled those who are struggling with life challenges, and created rituals of passage such as handfasting, Wiccaning, First Blood (never a happy occasion in my generation, but one that always should have been,) and death and wake rituals. That's my job; to be a balm and maybe a guide in times of difficulty or great change, and to help people find the Divine in those times so their spirits can transform and/or heal.

 

It isn't about power. It's about service. The danger comes in that others hold you to a higher standard of behaviour and try to make you their guru. I always try to discourage that because as most of the folks in my local community will cheerfully agree, I definitely haven't figured out the entire way through the path of enlightenment yet and I have LOTS of faults (that I am working on, in my own time and way, just like everyone else;) and if you let people put you on a pedestal, sooner or later you will fall off because you are NOT the Goddess (and I would like to point out that even our gods are not perfect) and you will screw it up, and people will see it. And the fact is that a lot of what we do is wearing on the spirit (if you have compassion,) takes time and long hours, and often you are more critiicized for your errors than congratulated for your successes, so many times, when someone tells you how great they think you are, you really do need to hear something positive. Some people, especially if they have never been empowered in their lives (and many of us find Paganism for exactly this reason) get balloon heads and develop arrogance. Others become completely burned out and give up.

 

All of this is much more difficult to fight against because there is no material living in the path of being Pagan clergy, so we somehow have to find the time (and money) to do this work around our jobs as well as our families. People *do* expect you to drop everything for them at the drop of a hat, and you really should, because people only call you when they really need you, just like the Crisis Line. The most effective Pagan clergy are the ones who are living on a pension, be it through retirement or disability. They have the time, and the luxury. Any "power" that comes through this is illusionary, especially since Pagans are naturally suspicious. There will be no mansions and grand cars for us; Pagans won't spend $20 for a workshop more often than not! Just ask Raymond Buckland, Janet Farrar and Starhawk how much money they've made off of their books and teaching. They'll tell you; they're all available on Facebook and they will talk to you, because they are Pagan clergy, not the Pope. I think you'll find that anyone floating along on "High Priestess' Disease" is a wannabe, and any actually influential and well-known Witch or Pagan is just following their Calling (otherwise known as your True Will.) The last Witch cult followed Alex Sanders, and even he wasn't making a million dollars.

 

I was listening to a radio program called "Tapestry" on CBC a couple of years ago now (while I was still working at the local taxi office) and there was an interview with a Buddhist nun who was describing her experiences of speaking with others and counselling them through crisis. I was struck keenly by how exactly the same our work was. Nowhere does it include telling people what to think or believe. Right now, my work includes getting a Samhain ritual and Witches' Ball ready that is a Pagan Pride fundraiser, getting started on the writings of three handfastings that are going to take place in the next year (working actively with the couples who are co-writers of the ceremonies) and getting up at stupid o'clock on Friday mornings to go with a local Witch to the hospital, where she is receiving some very difficult and painful regular treatment for an illness and she needs someone to come and hold her hand and talk with her while she waits. I do it because when my husband was in the ICU after a horrible car accident, I needed experienced Witches to talk to and hold my hand and help me communicate with my gods, with whom I was very angry at the time (and have since forgiven.) Even in an individualized, relatively dogmaless spirituality, I think that we need clergy.

 

Blessed be,

Sable

Missing the Mysteries?

Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 8:11 PM Comments comments (0)

Reprinted from the Witchvox Website, May 28, 2006:

 

I believe this issue may be the most important one that the modern Pagan community faces. Our religion, our faith, is in a state of transition. We are growing – and rapidly – and there simply aren’t enough teachers around to meet the demand of students. But there are so many who seek the Pagan Path. How can we reconcile this?

A study of the history of the Craft explains many of the somewhat inexplicable views one currently finds on the topic and also warns of the pitfalls and offers answers. There are not many traditionally Initiated Gardnerians left in comparison to the number of Pagans who currently exist, but we’ve all encountered at least one; one who insisted the rest of us were wannabes and he was the real thing. Many Pagans of a variety of stripes claim superiority for one reason or another. Their tradition has been around longer, they are more historically accurate, or they have the Apostolic Succession. Why? Why does this happen, in a religion (or religions, if you will) which was originally formed in Victorian counterculture, founded by rebels, and which preaches freedom as a general rule?

 

Is the Pagan who learns her path from a book any less of a Pagan than one who was initiated into a Gardnerian lineage?

 

I was absolutely dumbfounded when I first met a Pagan who did not practice magick. I thought she was nuts. Magick, to me, was a basic principle of the Pagan way; the ability to enact change in our own lives through the power of our own Wills. How could a practicing Pagan not use magick?

 

But there is more than one branch of the Pagan tree, and for many, it is a matter of following an older path and finding solace in ancient gods and ways and the use of magick is not relevant to them. In that case, I say, what difference does it make whether or not those Pagans find teachers? If all you want to do is commune with the gods as you understand them, and follow an older culture’s ways, your library is likely a better teacher for the latter, and only we ourselves can truly know how much meaning and insight we glean in the former.

 

So, let’s consider only those paths for which magick is an important aspect, such as Wicca. What is magick, anyway? Why do we view it as part of our faith? What role does it have for us?

 

For many, Wicca is the name given to the faith – and Craft – of the Witches. That is, in my opinion, a legitimate view. Certainly that was the view of Gerald Gardner. Whatever you might think personally of Gardner, the Wiccan community, at any rate, is agreed on one thing. Either he is the man who invented Wicca as we currently understand it, or he is the man who revived it for the modern world. So I believe that his view is of particular importance.

 

It is interesting, for example, that many of the most vocal supporters of the theory that “only a Witch can make a Witch” trace their lineage back to Gardner, and believe that only those who descend from Gardner are real Witches or Wiccans. Gardner certainly didn’t think so. Gardner believed that Witches preserved elements of their ancient practices in folk magick and the lore of wise women and cunning men, mostly by handing the traditions down through families. He believed his own method and tradition to be an adaptation of what the hereditary Witches did and if you believe his testimony, you must accept that he was a rebel himself, and most of his initiates would not have been regarded as “real Witches” by the hereditary Witches, because they were not members of “Witch families.”

 

But Witch Wars have existed since the Craft began. Certainly the feud between Doreen Valiente and Gardner ought to illustrate that. Or, if you don’t believe that was the beginning of the Craft, the Witch Wars between cunning folk precede that famous feud. It’s interesting, too, that the issue that divided Valiente and Gardner was this very issue – how to deal with the rapid spread of the Craft, and whether or not it ought to remain the hidden path of the few, or whether as many as possible ought to be initiated and taught the ways.

 

But again, Gardner didn’t believe it should always remain hidden. Gardner believed that once, there had been many who had practiced the Old Ways. He believed the Witches to be the heirs to the Mystery traditions of the Ancient World, such as the Eleusinian Mysteries, and he believed that the traditions of Wiccan Initiation had descended directly from those Mysteries. He believed that Witches had been driven underground by desperation due to persecution and the Inquisition, and in the process, had lost much of their knowledge of the Old Ways. He even believed that there would come a time when once again, the Priestesses and Priests would come out of hiding, and again, there would be grand ceremonies to the Old Gods.

 

In the days of the Eleusinian Mysteries, almost every important Greek was an Initiate. However, not all of them were Initiates of the higher levels. The faith itself was widely practiced by even lay people. Only the truly dedicated became the Mysteries’ Priests.

 

The Eleusinian Mysteries were so popular that many similar traditions began, such as the Osiris Mysteries, the Cult of Isis and the Cult of Mithras. One can certainly see the reflections in Wiccan Initiation, which involves a symbolic death and rebirth!

 

So, what I have effectively said so far, in a nutshell, is that history supports the idea of a widespread study of Witchcraft and Paganism, and that one does not have to be traditionally trained or initiated to be considered a Wiccan or Pagan. And yes, I believe this.

 

But hold on.

 

Faith is faith. There are many Christians, for example, but only a very rare few are called to be ministers or priests. There are many Buddhists, but only a few become monks, and then bodhisattvas. There are many Jews, and few Rabbis.

 

Most Pagan faiths nowadays are Reconstructionists, who are re-creating ancient religions of different cultures. Most of those religions did not involve the widespread practice of magick, or indeed, any pursuit that might be called mystical or metaphysical. Only the Priesthood truly studied those sorts of things. In this case, does it matter if someone who calls himself Asatru has formal training? I don’t think it does. Magick is not necessary to the Asatru faith, though many Asatruar do choose to practice magick.

 

It is only in such traditions as Druidry (Druids were a class of Priests who served the Celtic people) and Wicca (where the whole religion as we currently understand it has made everyone a Priestess or Priest) that this really matters.

 

I think that to call oneself a Druid requires one to be trained in the mystical arts that the Druids practiced, and that does include forms of magick. Otherwise, you are a Celt. Nothing wrong with that, but you’re not a Druid, in my opinion.

 

In the same vein, I postulate that one does not need to practice magick or ecstatic trance to be a follower of the religion of Wicca, and therefore, a Wiccan, but one does require these things in order to be a Witch.

In a book called “The Jesus Mysteries,” the authors proposed a theory. They postulate that the tale of Jesus Christ was a Jewish Mystery tradition, inspired by the Eleusinian and Osiris Mysteries. They propose that the Gnostics, who study a Christian mysticism, are the heirs of what used to be a class of initiated priesthood of the Jesus tradition, while those who later went on to found Christianity as we currently understand it were lower-level Initiates, trying to establish the tradition to the best of their abilities after their connection to the original source of the Mysteries was lost.. They believe that after a couple of centuries of this, when the literal-minded Christians encountered the Gnostics again, they no longer recognized the founders of their faith for what they were, viewed them as blasphemers, and condemned them to the Inquisition.

 

It’s an interesting theory, and there isn’t a lot of data to support or refute it, but the comparison is obvious, and somewhat sobering.

 

Every religion began at some point with a dyed-in-the-wool mystical experience; a direct communication to the Divine. Every religion is either concerned with seeking more of that direct divine revelation, or of learning from the revelation of another.

 

Witches do not have prophets, because Witches are prophets. Through Drawing Down the Moon or Sun, Initiation, and other mystical practices, Witches communicate with the Divine on a regular basis, in many different forms. These are the experiences referred to as “The Mysteries.”

 

While I do believe that you can quite rightly be a Wiccan or a Pagan by attending a few public Sabbat rituals or reading a couple of books, only deeply dedicated solitaries, or Initiated Witches, continue to experience the Mysteries. The whole faith of Wicca is founded on those Mysteries, but unless you seek the practice of them yourself, you have to take someone else’s word for it. And according to anyone who has actually had the experience, it defies description in mere words.

 

So in this case, I say that since you must experience the Mysteries to truly understand them, a “Priesthood class” is definitely emerging. I also say that since traditionally Initiated Witches learn processes which create those necessary indescribable mystical experiences, directly from the hands of someone who has already experienced them, I must conclude that traditional Initiation through a lineage likely provides superior training than pursuing the same path without instruction.

 

However, I do not mean to say, exactly, that “only a Witch can make a Witch.” I do believe it is possible to experience Initiatory insights spontaneously, or to seek them out for oneself. Otherwise, Vision Quests would not be possible, and neither would transcendental meditation, and Mohammed never would have encountered the Archangel.

 

So one can, indeed, become a Witch without Apostolic Initiation, though it is fraught with many pitfalls and is more difficult and tedious. Also, just as Christian texts warn of “false prophets,” not everyone who claims to have had mystical insights really has. Some people are just looking for attention or followers. How do you really tell? Only those who share that level of Initiation can truly tell for sure.

 

I don’t believe this is going to give Initiated Witches more authority in the Pagan community. We are a religion of countercultural rebels, who believe that we are all Priestess and Priests which, in a sense, is true – only we know how we, personally, relate to the Divine.

 

At any rate, it is too late to cry over spilt milk; the cat is most definitely out of the bag. We will never again be a secretive religion of Initiated covens. We are a large faith now.

 

What does that mean to those of us who have been initiated into a tradition, or have had the Initiatory experiences? Well, for one thing, I think we should stop alienating the rest of the Pagan community by claiming superiority. If we want Wicca to lose its sense of the Mysteries, we’re certainly working very hard to encourage just that.

 

Perhaps we can take the role of "bodhisattvas," only ones that live in the world. Our religion teaches us to love this world and find mystical wisdom in it, not to transcend it, so I don’t believe we can live apart from it. But we must take the same attitude; we cannot force others to conform to our view of what Wicca and Paganism should be, but hope that the few who are called will come to us for teaching when they are ready, and we must therefore do the best we can to pass on what we’ve learned when we’re asked for it.

 

Further, we must not compromise those insights because someone doesn’t want to admit that they haven’t reached that level of insight yet, nor can we compromise the methods by which we learned them. The fact is that means that the practice and training of Witchcraft within Wicca will be the path of the few. But Paganism and Wicca may one day be the religion of the many.

 

* Note that again, "Witch" and "Wicca" are not synonymous. This article only refers to the practice of Witchcraft as Wiccans understand it. Folk, hereditary, and hedge witches all practice the Cunning Art in their own way.

Magick and the Power of Intent

Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

From Sable's upcoming book, The Eight Paths of Power: A Practical Guide to the Eightfold Way of Wiccan Magick:

 

“Intent” is the wellspring of all magick. I find that many people believe that they know what this means and how to do it, but in practice, forming clear and precise Intent, and willing it to happen, is not nearly as simple as it sounds. It takes training and effort and work! In order for your Intent to be effective, quite a few things must come together at once:

 

• You must be able to visualize, clearly and concisely, what you want, as if it has already happened;

 

• You must have sufficient focus to keep this clearly in your mind while performing the act of ritual that announces your Intent to the Universe; the elements we traditionally call “casting a spell”;

 

• You need to be able to induce just enough of an altered state of consciousness that your magickal act is happening on the astral plane as well as the physical one;

 

• You must have enough desire to see this fulfilled that you invest your Intent with passion and direction;

 

• You must have a clear enough idea of what you want that you will not get something else instead, or something related to what you were really after (harder than it sounds!);

 

• You must know yourself well enough to be able to trust your own motivations, so that you don’t end up accumulating “karmic debt” with the Threefold Law;

 

• You must trust that the Universe will fulfill your desire and not leave it an “opt out” option (more on this later);

 

• You must circumvent, or rewrite, any negative programming in your behaviour or beliefs that might cause you to undermine your own work;

 

• You must do the real world work to help give your Intent an opportunity to manifest itself. Not as basic as it initially seemed, is it? Most Witches practice and study for years to eventually achieve a state by which their Wills are effectively manifested. But, I am here to tell you that if you persist, eventually you will achieve a state where you are capable of simply wanting something with the power of Intent and it will come to you, and no spells, rituals or charms will be needed! Just be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it!

 

Blessed be,

Sable

The Charge of the Goddess: A Wiccan Ethic

Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 7:57 PM Comments comments (0)

Reprinted from the website of "Witches & Pagans Magazine" by permission. Posted April 2, 2010:

 

It has been my experience that many people get involved in Wicca because they like the lack of rules. We don’t have a lot of “Thou shalt nots.” All we have is the Witch’s1 Rede, they say. But there are many unspoken rules of ethics that we think of as being essentially “Wiccan.” Why? Where do they come from?

 

The answer should be self-evident but often isn’t. What is the one piece of liturgy that Wiccans really have? The answer is the Charge of the Goddess.

 

Most modern Wiccans treat this prose as a lovely way to invoke the Goddess. It does work well that way. But consider the original meaning of the word “charge”. It is a command, a responsibility laid upon someone, an exhortation, a duty, an injunction, or being entrusted with someone’s care. It is a series of rules!

 

In order to illustrate this, and illustrate how this piece of liturgy defines our Wiccan ethics, the remainder of this article will be concerned with breaking down the Charge into its component elements and paraphrasing them in a less poetic fashion. I will present both Doreen Valiente’s version and Starhawk’s version, since both are utilized among different Wiccan traditions. Though there are other versions, these are the most commonly known. There are also some slight differences (some elements present in one version may not be present in the other,) and so these differences need to be addressed as well.

 

I. The Names of the Goddess

 

Valiente:

Listen to the words of the Great Mother;

she who of old was also called among men

Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine,

Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Cybele, Arianrhod,

Isis, Dana, Bride and by many other names:

 

Starhawk:

Listen to the words of the Great Mother, Who of old was called Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Diana, Arionrhod, Brigid, and by many other names:

 

The Goddess says, first and foremost, “Listen!” I don’t believe that this is merely a poetic way of beginning the charge; I believe She’s telling us to listen!

 

Many of the same Goddesses appear in both versions of the Charge. The goddesses common to both versions are: Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Arianrhod (different spellings,) and Bride/Brighid. Just among these goddesses there is diversity: maidens, mothers, and crones. (The additions to this list probably reflects the taste of the authors.)

 

This list of goddesses included in both versions, have messages that the Lady (or at least, those inspired by Her to write this prose) wants us to pay attention to. We can also gather that we should accept a balance of forces – life and death; Maiden, Mother and Crone; intellect and passion; love and war.

 

In both cases, the Goddess is named “Great Mother ... and by many other names” and therein comes the Wiccan belief in the One Goddess being present in all goddesses. But it also acknowledges that these individual Goddesses are separate beings with their own individual areas of concern, otherwise why mention them separately at all?

 

By listing Them together, the authors are also asserting that all these goddesses are equally worthy of our respect. I would think that it would be important, then; if we follow a goddess Who is not mentioned in this passage of the Charge, we should make sure to include Her when we recite it.

 

II. Gathering Together

 

Valiente:

Whenever ye have need of anything,

once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full,

then shall ye assemble in some secret place

and adore the spirit of me,

who am Queen of all Witcheries.

 

Starhawk:

Whenever you have need of anything, once a month, and better it be when the moon is full, you shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me Who is Queen of all the Wise.

 

Our Goddess is less demanding than some gods we know (who demands a gathering at least once a week!) but She still requires that we gather together. She continues, “Better it be when the moon is full.” Why?

 

Most Witches know that magick brought to fruition on the full moon has the power of the waxing moon behind it. Maybe it’s just because the Full Moon has always captured the imagination of humankind, and everything looks more magickal under Her light.

 

The Goddess also says, “You should gather in a secret place.” Once a month, She wants us to gather away from the public eye. I believe this is because much of a Witch’s work is mystical in nature and should be a personal, private thing, shared only to those who are willing to understand. I also believe that the Inner Work (the mysticism) is necessary before you can presume to do the Outer Work.

 

The Lady also says, “You shall adore Me, who is the Queen!” That means that we need to worship and respect Her, not demand things of Her like a servant. She’s bigger than us, and we need to keep that in mind. If She directs us to do something that we don’t understand, we just have to remember that She is the one who commands us. Note that She says “adore,” not “fear” — we don’t need to fear the Goddess. I believe that means that She also loves us, because love has to work in two directions in order to be real love. This is a very important distinction.

 

III. Sorcery & Magical Training

 

Valiente:

There shall ye assemble,

ye who are fain to learn all sorcery,

yet have not won its deepest secrets;

to these will I teach things that are yet unknown.

 

Starhawk:

Starhawk has no equivalent section.

 

Which Charge do you follow? This is the first really significant difference between these two charges: in Valiente's version, you are commanded to learn magick. If you choose to follow Starhawk’s Charge, there is no requirement to learn (or do) magick. So if you are someone who follows the Wiccan faith but you don’t practice magick, you shouldn’t follow Valiente’s Charge, because it is quite clear here that magickal training is expected. It also states that unless you have “won its deepest secrets” (and anyone who thinks they have is, in my opinion, suffering from High Priestess Disease,) you need to always keep learning.

 

IV. Freedom from oppression — and clothes (or maybe just bling).

 

Valiente:

And ye shall be free from slavery;

and as a sign that ye be really free,

ye shall be naked in your rites;

and ye shall dance, sing, feast,

make music and love,

all in my praise.

For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit,

and mine also is joy on earth;

for my law is love unto all beings.

 

Starhawk:

You shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that you be free you shall be naked in your rites.

Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in My Presence, for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and Mine also is joy on earth.

For My law is love is unto all beings.

 

Ah, some of my favorite verses!

 

The Goddess says, “You shall be free from slavery.” This is a good reason to believe that Wicca is a countercultural movement. In order to be free, we have to think for ourselves, and we should also abhor slavery and try to fight it.

 

She also commands that we shall “be naked in our rites.” At one time, all Wiccans took this to mean skyclad (clothes-free) practice, but most of us have since adopted ritual robes instead. I suppose the question is, what did She mean by “naked?” The obvious answer is, of course, “without clothing” but it can also mean unadorned. So what does that suggest about our custom of wearing cool Witch bling and fancy amber and jet necklaces? I think the idea is to remember that we are all equals before the Goddess.

 

Next, we are exhorted to “sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in Her presence/praise.”

 

So, She wants us to make a joyous noise, to sample freely of the fruits of life, to offer up celebratory and joyful movement, to create art, and to love. No sitting on hard pews being quiet for us! She wants us to be noisy! She wants us to shout with joy! She wants us to love freely and without guilt!

 

This was a very important realization for me, because I tend to be a serious person by nature. To emphasize this message, She goes on to remind us that Hers is the “ecstasy of the spirit,” and “joy on earth;” meaning that She is the one who grants these things, and that is Her realm.

 

Last, the Lady announces that “Her law is love unto all beings.” That includes the jerk who cut you off in traffic, the miserable boss who is riding you for no good reason, the irritating cousin you would rather not admit that you know, that dog next door that won’t shut up at 3 a.m., mosquitoes and wasps and spiders and snakes and beetles too. All beings. Period.

 

V. Striving

 

Valiente:

Keep pure your highest ideal;

strive ever towards it;

let naught stop you or turn you aside.

 

Starhawk:

Starhawk writes no equivalent passage.

 

I think this passage doesn’t require much interpretation. The Goddess wants us to hold to our highest ideal (note that She said, “your highest ideal,” not “My highest ideal,”;) to always work to achieve it, and not to allow anyone to dissuade us from it or distract us from it. Those who are familiar with the work of Aleister Crowley’s work will recognize this as a clear command to focus on, and work consistently to achieve, our True Wills!

 

VI. Youth and Immortality

 

Valiente:

For mine is the secret door

which opens upon the Land of Youth,

and mine is the cup of the wine of life,

and the Cauldron of Cerridwen,

which is the Holy Grail of immortality.

 

Starhawk:

Mine is the secret that opens the door of youth, and Mine is the cup of wine of life that is the cauldron of Cerridwen, that is the holy grail of immortality.

 

There is a fine distinction here, again, that needs mentioning between the two Charges. Valiente refers to the “secret door which opens upon the Land of Youth,” and Starhawk refers to the “secret that opens the door of youth.” This distinction represents a difference between Gardnerian Wicca and Reclaiming Wicca. For the Gardnerians (Valiente’s tradition,) the Land of Youth is the Summerlands, where we go when we die and our beauty and youth is restored; the process of earning entry into the Summerlands is an occult mystery. For the Reclaiming Witches, the “fountain of youth” is a state that can be reached by anyone of any age through the Secrets of the Goddess. For Doreen Valiente, the Goddess asks us to seek the Summerlands through occult practice, while for Starhawk, the Goddess wants us to seek inner youth and bring that freshness to our everyday lives, regardless of our age.

 

Either interpretation fits into the rest of the passage, in which the Lady claims the mysteries of Life, Death, and Rebirth as Her own. “The cup of the wine of life” can be seen both as the joy of Life celebrated and as the Mother’s womb. The Cauldron of Cerridwen is the cauldron of transformation, in which we all are slain and reborn in a new form; the tomb that is also a womb. By claiming these mysteries, the Goddess tells us not to fear death, but to accept it as part of the process of life. She tells us to remember that all things come in cycles. She reminds us that no matter how difficult things are, this, too, shall pass.

 

VII: Life After Death

 

Valiente:

I am the Gracious Goddess,

who gives the gift of joy unto the heart of man.

Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the

spirit eternal;

and beyond death, I give peace and freedom

and reunion with those who have gone before.

 

Starhawk:

I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal, and beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with those that have gone before.

 

The Lady says, “If you’re in touch with My mysteries, then you should know that the spirit is eternal. When you die, I will give you peace, and freedom, and I will see that you are reunited with those you love whom you have lost.”

 

What form this reunion takes is up for debate in the Wiccan community. Some non-theist Wiccans believe that there is no life after death; others believe that we are all reunited in a collective race consciousness; while still others (myself among them) believe that our spirit continues and we get to hang out with the cool people we love and miss in a world very similar to this one. (Except that since it’s the Land of Youth, we all get to be at our physical prime again!)

 

VIII: The Mother of All Living

 

Valiente:

Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice;

for behold,

I am the Mother of all living,

and my love is poured out upon the earth.

 

Starhawk:

Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and My love is poured out upon the earth.

 

So, our Goddess does not ask for us to sacrifice anything. I believe this also means that She doesn’t want any martyr complexes.

 

I think there is a difference, however, in that if we freely offer Her a sacrifice, She will be pleased to accept it. At every Esbat I offer Her the first portion of the wine and the feast; at every harvest, I offer Her the first portion of my carrots, grapes, pumpkins and so forth. I offer it freely in gratitude for what I have received. I feel She’s happy to have it and appreciates the offer. But, She doesn’t demand it!

 

She goes on to remind us that She is the Mother of all living things and She loves all of them. Note, too, that She makes sure to clarify by telling us that Her “love is poured out upon the earth,” that this includes plants and spirit-beings as well. I think this may be the seed of Pagan environmentalism, which accepts all living things as the Great Mother’s creation.

 

IX: The Star Goddess

 

Valiente:

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess;

she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven,

and whose body encircles the Universe.

 

Starhawk:

Hear the words of the Star Goddess, the dust of Whose feet are the hosts of Heaven, whose body encircles the universe:

 

Who is the Star Goddess? Well, this is the Great Cosmic Goddess, of Whom all Goddesses are but a part. Either the dust of Her feet are the hosts of heaven (a.k.a. the gods,) or those hosts of heaven are in the dust of Her feet. I take that to mean that they are merely a part of Her greater whole. And since Her “body encircles the universe,” She encompasses all of us and we are contained within Her. I can’t help but make that “eat my dust!” connection as well. She is far beyond the hosts of heaven (the gods;) She leaves them in Her dust. So this is the Goddess of the gods that we are listening to now! I don’t know if I can effectively communicate in this short space how truly profound this statement is if you consider it. So, the Great Creatrix wants to tell us something. Maybe we should listen!

 

X. The Soul of Nature

 

Valiente:

I who am the beauty of the green earth,

and the white Moon among the stars,

and the mystery of the waters,

and the desire of the heart of man,

call unto thy soul.

Arise, and come unto me.

For I am the soul of nature, who gives life

to the universe.

From me all things proceed,

and unto me all things must return;

 

Starhawk:

I Who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mysteries of the waters, I call upon your soul to arise and come unto me. For I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe. From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return.

 

The Creatrix identifies Herself with the earth, the moon, and the mysterious waters. The earth, moon and waters all change; cycling through seasons, phases and tides. They have been here long before us and they will be here long after we are gone. They are cradles of life, but they also have phases of death and darkness, ebb and flow.

 

The first lesson here is to accept change and transformation, to appreciate the beauty in the world around us, and to spend time observing that world. The second lesson is that She wants us to look to the natural world for the sacred. She tells us that She is “the beauty of the green earth.” Again, Pagan environmentalism is reinforced. If the earth is sacred, and our Goddess is there, we must, must care for it and treat it with reverence and respect!

 

XI. The Rapture of the Infinite

 

Valiente:

and before my face, beloved of Gods and of men,

let thine innermost divine self be enfolded

in the rapture of the infinite.

 

Starhawk:

Starhawk again writes no equivalent.

 

Valiente’s Goddess tells us that in Her presence, we are loved by the Gods and by humanity. She reminds us that our innermost self is divine and she asks us to “be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite.” In this simple phrase She reminds us to appreciate that profound divine eternal mystery hinted at in the earth, moon and sky, and ocean, but She also encourages us to seek that mystical state of enlightenment that is impossible to describe if you have not experienced it; that state of religious ecstasy that some call nirvana, some call satori, and the Witches call “Drawing Down the Moon.”

 

XII. All Acts of Love & Pleasure

 

Valiente:

Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth;

for behold,

all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

 

Starhawk:

Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices,

for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are

My rituals.

 

The Goddess commands us to worship Her with joy, and explicitly endorses that one of the most sacred acts of ritual and worship that we can offer to the Lady is to celebrate love and pleasure. Sexuality becomes sacred! This is the foundation for why many Wiccans and Pagans do not constrain their relationships to heterosexual monogamy. What this section means, exactly, is much discussed in our community. Some more traditional Wiccans believe that the balance of male and female is preferred, but many others accept many alternate forms of sexuality. When you take this proclaimation together with the self-acceptance and appreciation of nakedness earlier in the Charge, it makes for a very liberating sexuality in which shame and embarrassment should never play a part. But take note: because sexuality is sacred anything that cheapens that experience insults an act which should remain sacred, and hence, is blasphemy.

 

XIII: Wiccan Virtues

 

Valiente:

And therefore let there be beauty and strength,

power and compassion, honour and humility,

mirth and reverence within you.

 

Starhawk:

Let there be beauty and strength, power and

compassion, honor and humility, mirth and

reverence within you.

 

This passage describes a set of Wiccan Virtues, and it is the most ethically explicit part of the Charge. Note it is a list of virtues, not of sins — we are exhorted to embody these virtues, not to avoid disobedience of a set of rules. Note the balance emphasized here; the Goddess wants beauty and strength, not beauty or strength; power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence. When Wiccans speak of finding balance, I think it is these qualities we are especially trying to balance within our own characters.

 

XIV: Finding the Goddess Within

 

Valiente:

And thou who thinkest to seek for me,

know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not

unless thou knowest the mystery;

that if that which thou seekest

thee findest not within thee,

thou wilt never find it without thee.

 

Starhawk:

And you who seek to know Me, know that the

seeking and yearning will avail you not,

unless you know the Mystery: for if that

which you seek, you find not within yourself,

you will never find it without.

 

To me, this is the most profound passage in the Charge: the Goddess tells us not to waste time looking to others for our validation and for the mysteries that are Hers, but to look within. So for anyone looking for a great Wiccan guru to teach you how to find the Goddess; well, cut that out! A good Wiccan teacher will try to show you how to find those answers for yourself. The Goddess also reminds us that changing what is within changes what is without. If you want to change your world, change your perspective, and be the change you would see in the world. “As above, so below.”

 

XV: The Beginning and the End

 

Valiente:

For behold,

I have been with thee from the beginning;

and I am that which is attained

at the end of desire.

 

Starhawk:

For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am That which is attained at

the end of desire.

 

In Her last statement, the Lady reminds us that She will be with us at the beginning and the end, and She has always been with us, and She is what we ultimately seek. For me, that’s a pretty comforting thought.

 

The Charge of the Goddess is a very profound ethical code as well as a statement of theology and cosmology. If you include it with the Witch’s Rede and the Threefold Law, Wicca is full of ethical direction! I hope this has helped to clarify some of it, and even if you don’t agree with my interpretations then I hope I have inspired you to give some extra thought to yours!

 

 

References:

www.dictionary.com

 

Starhawk, “The Charge of the Goddess,” from The Spiral Dance, 1975, 2010.

 

Valiente, Doreen, “The Charge of the Goddess,” from The Gardnerian Book of Shadows, reprinted at Sacred Texts http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/gbos/index.htm, 1957, 2007.

 

 

1. Author’s Note: By habit and because it is traditional in our practice, I may use “Witch” and “Wiccan” interchangeably. However, it is my belief that the two are not necessarily synonymous. “Wicca” is the religion and “Witch” is the practice. I believe you can be a “Witch,” who practices the art of magick, and not be a “Wiccan” in your beliefs, and I know a few “Wiccans” who believe in the faith and ethics that do not practice magick and are therefore not “Witches.” This article concerns Wiccan belief, not the beliefs of all Witches, and I have tried to make that differentiation clear. For the record, I am a Witch who happens to embrace the Wiccan faith.


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