Blog for the CWABC Temple of Mirth & Reverence in Vernon, BC. Will include articles on Wiccan thealogy, Paganism, magick, natural health, Pagan events in BC, and Temple events. We hold eight Sabbat celebrations a year and several classes. Our public rituals are by donation.
|Posted by Sable Aradia on July 6, 2013 at 12:15 AM||comments (10)|
Due to popular demand, we will be sponsoring a Wicca 101 series starting in September. This will be overseen by me (Sable) and organized by my Second Degree initiate Anari (Zapphira) who is also my coven Maiden. To register, contact me here or at the shop or phone. All welcome, costs limited to expenses (ie. photocopies etc.)
|Posted by Sable Aradia on March 4, 2012 at 2:40 PM||comments (0)|
Hey guys, just letting you know that Ostara will be happening Saturday, March 17 at Mitch & Wayne's place (768 25th Avenue); all are welcome. Ritual will be in the evening around 6 pm; people can start arriving earlier in the afternoon if they would like to. Please bring a potluck contribution. Some people have allergies so please list ingredients. For more information, please contact Mitch at 250-545-7715.
|Posted by Sable Aradia on October 11, 2011 at 4:10 PM||comments (1)|
Please note that this year's Witches' Ball has been cancelled due to insufficient ticket sales. We are sorry for the inconvenience and we hope to reintroduce the event next year! Ticket refunds, for those who have purchased one, are available at The Threads That Bind Us.
Samhain will not be a public event, but is strictly for Temple members this year. Contact Sable, Erin or Tammy if you would like to bring someone. Please note that we are not encouraging people who are entirely new to the Craft to attend this one. We intend to orient it more towards those who are already on a Pagan/Wiccan path. Sorry, again, for the inconvenience.
|Posted by Sable Aradia on March 20, 2011 at 5:25 PM||comments (1)|
Thanks to everyone who joined us for Ostara last night! It was a lot of fun and a very good and warm ritual. Beltane is going to be early, likely the weekend of the 23rd of April, because my May is basically spoken for. But it promises to be great fun! Two of our Temple members, Mitch and Wayne, have volunteered their huge yard for the purpose. We're going to have a maypole and games! More info to come as things come together!
|Posted by Sable Aradia on March 12, 2011 at 3:16 PM||comments (0)|
I have a new non-profit project called the Pagan Pathfinders Podcast!
Picture, if you will, a virtual campfire in the astral plane, and around this campfire, a heartbeat drum calls to the elders and leaders of the worldwide Pagan community. They are organizers, facilitators, authors, musicians, scholars, artists, advocates, and community-builders. They practice almost every conceivable Pagan faith and span time zones from the Pacific Coast of North America to New South Wales, Australia. Some of them are famous, some not-so-famous, and some only famous in their own communities. But wherever they are, whoever they are, they are those who find the paths for the rest of us.
My name is Sable Aradia, and I'm a Witch from Vernon, BC, Canada. This was the vision that came to me one day when I looked at my Facebook contact list, and realized how many interesting and influential Pagans had responded to my contact requests. I wasn't sure they would go for it - after all, by definition they are very busy people - but I put the email out there anyway, realizing that it really couldn't hurt to ask. And the response was overwhelming. I found most of these people to be approachable, friendly, accommodating, and eager to share ideas and build bridges. And with the technology of Skype, we made it happen.
Once a month, we will gather to discuss topics of interest to Pagans everywhere, with panels formed from a list of some of the greatest movers and shakers in the modern Pagan world. We'll record our candid discussions live and uncensored for the rest of the world to hear. There are only two rules; try not to interrupt anyone, and if anyone starts mudslinging, they will be asked to leave.
Welcome to Pagan Pathfinders!
Check it out at http://paganpathfinders.webs.com. It's a good way to get in touch with what's going on with the global Pagan community!
|Posted by Sable Aradia on February 8, 2011 at 6:33 PM||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!
|Posted by Sable Aradia on January 29, 2011 at 6:27 PM||comments (0)|
Wards in a metaphysical context are symbols used to divide one area from another, and to ensure its protection.
Outdoor wards usually involve marking the four or eight compass of a property with a tangible marker. In the modern age, this tends to involve crystals with elemental associations appropriate to the direction, and in older days it involved natural features of the property, animal tokens, particular arrangements of stones or other natural objects, ochre and symbols. The objects chosen should have personal meaning to you and to the land, and acknowledgement of any spirits of the land that you work with should be made (for instance, an offering of honey and milk might be poured for any faeries, etc.) This is both a gift and an appeasement; you are seeking to appease the negative or mischievous spirits of a place, and also to enlist the help of the positive spirits. If you have guardian angels, protective spirits, ancestors who watch over you, Gods and Goddesses or Totems, this would be a good time to call upon them as well.
When creating an outdoor ward, be sure to visualize the protective marker that you have developed as extending into a spiritual pillar that reaches deep into the earth’s core, and into the cosmic Source at the centre of the Universe. You can think of it as “grounding and centering” the marker.
Begin with whatever direction you deem appropriate, and move in an appropriate manner (which may involve travelling in a clockwise “sunwise” direction, a counterclockwise or “moonwise” direction, or balancing opposites, depending on your beliefs. Clockwise brings in energy, counterclockwise banishes negatives, and balancing opposites creates a cross.)
When creating symbols, use whatever symbols seem appropriate to your spirituality. Traditional protective symbols include crosses, crossed circles, an X, bindrunes, pentagrams, oms, or the holy symbols of any faith.
When completed, join your wards together in your visualization, either by linking them overhead, or by visualization a circle connecting each of the points (or a square, or an eight-pointed star, as is appropriate.) Say something to invoke the Powers you pray to, and ask all guardian angels or spirits mentioned to protect your space.
When warding the inside of your home, things are often done a little bit differently. You can use the pillar model already suggested and the markers become the four outer corners of your house, the markers of which should, ideally, be bound in or by the foundation of your home “cornerstones.”
Another method that can be done instead of, or in addition to, the markers, is to seal each and every entrance into your home with a sacred symbol. Often this is preceded by sweeping with a besom or smudging or ringing a bell to drive out all negative influences prior to the warding. In this case, you drive everything out your front door once you are done clearing it. Then, you draw whatever symbol feels appropriate to you (I typically use Earth Banishing Pentagrams, but others may choose to use crosses, eight-spoke wheels, or whatever) on or over every possible entering point with a mixture of blessed salt and water. Typically you would move in a clockwise direction, starting just to the right side of your front door and moving along through every room in turn, finishing at the front door (or most-used entrance to your home.) At this point, you loudly declare that anything with ill intent or negative effect for you and your family is to leave and not return! You seal it with an especially large symbol and punctuate it with a firm declaration that “seals” things in your mind, such as “So mote it be!” or “Amen!”
Remember, this is every entrance to your home or business – that is, any place that anything can come into it. So, for convenience, I have included a checklist in case you forget something:
• Spy holes
• Heat vents
• Dryer vent
• Main power supply or fuse box
• Mirrors (entrances to the spirit world by tradition; don’t forget mirrors in odd places – for instance, I have one on the headboard of my bed)
• Drains (toilets, sinks, storm drains, laundry room drain, etc.)
• Chimneys (even if blocked off)
• Stove pipes
• Attic windows and air vents
• Mail slots that enter into the house
• Pet doors
• Phone line (communication comes in that way!)
• TV cable or television
• Any screen or monitor (it is a reflective surface and you use it for communication)
• Internet connection
• Satellite connection
• Significant cracks that lead to the outside (I have one in my ceiling and one in my foundation of my old house, and I seal them both)
• Unused doors or windows (spirits still use them, even if they are sealed off)
• Skylights (I have an unused one in my store that I didn’t even know was there until someone used it to break in, and I wondered why my warding seemed ineffective until then! Double check these things!)
• Pipes that lead outside
• Some people even ward their electrical outlets – just don’t actually get them wet!
There will be other places that I have not covered – just use your common sense. If it seems appropriate, do it.
May the protection of your guides, Gods and guardians be on your house and home!
|Posted by Sable Aradia on January 29, 2011 at 6:22 PM||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!
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.
|Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 8:40 PM||comments (0)|
Starting in February, I will be offering my "Eight Paths of Power" series once again. These classes have been well received by people in the community and I think they have something valuable to offer any Pagan, Witch or practitioner of magickal arts. I have been actively practicing magick for a long time and this is the result of my work. I will be offering this series in Vernon, Kelowna, and Nanaimo; please contact me for details about the Nanaimo dates.
Here's my write-up that I have put in my brochure:
The Eight Paths of Power:
Also known as the "Eightfold Way," are a series of 8 different techniques used in Wicca to perform magick. As detailed in Gardner's Book of Shadows, they are:
• Meditation or Concentration. Called for short, "Intent".
• Trance, projection of the Astral.
• Rites, Chants, Spells, Runes, Charms, etc.
• Incense, Drugs, Wine, etc. "Intoxicants".
• The Dance, and kindred practices.
• Blood control (the Cords), Breath Control, and kindred practices.
• The Scourge.
• The Great Rite.
Each of the 8 Paths will be instructed in a 6 hour intensive workshop.
The first and most important element in creating magick is forming your Intent. This clearly focuses your magickal efforts towards a specific goal. All magick (Power of Intention, Law of Attraction, or whatever name you want to call it) flows from the essential ability to focus your Intent. This intensive workshop will include:
• Visualization skills
• Concentration exercises
• Meditation exercises
• How to learn your True Will
• How to beat the “I Can’ts” and “That’s Impossibles!”
• How to clearly request what you actually want from the Universe - and get it!
~ February 6 (Vernon,) February 13 (Kelowna) ~
Inducing a trance state, an altered state of consciousness, is where most major experiences of magick, mysticism, and psychic ability begin. T intensive workshop in Trance, including:
• Definition of a trance state and how it works
• Examination of altered states of consciousness
• Examination of levels of trance
• How to induce trance states
• How to access psychic ability from a trance state
• Lucid dreaming and shamanic work
• Preparation for mediumship and Drawing Down the Moon or Sun
• Accessing different levels of reality and astral projection
~ March 13 (Vernon,) March 27 (Kelowna) ~
Rites, Chants, Spells, Runes & Charms
This is the most familiar form of Witch’s magick; what people usually think of when they hear the word “Witchcraft.” This intensive workshop in The Craft will include:
• Basic elements of ritual writing
• The art of spell construction
• The Witches’ Rune and its meaning
• Magickal correspondence tables to aid in your spellcraft
• How to use time to aid your magickal Work
• Commonly used chants in group ritual
• The bardic art of memorization
• Archetypes and their relevance to magick
• A study of symbolism and metaphor
• Accessing your creative abilities to create rituals, chants, songs, charms and spells
~ May 7 (Vernon,) May 29 (Kelowna) ~
Intoxicants have been used throughout history to induce trance and create magick. This intensive workshop in the safe use of these substances will include:
• The safe use of incense in magick
• Particular uses for particular incenses
• The safe use of herbs and spices to induce altered states, psychic abilities, and certain physical effects (such as aphrodisiacs)
• The effect of various commonly-used drugs (marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine) on your spirit, aura, and psychic senses
• The effect of various prescription drugs on magick
• Safe recipes for magickally-oriented Intoxicants
~ June 12 (Vernon,) June 26 (Kelowna) ~
Dance & Sacred Movement
Dancing is among the most ancient methods by which power was raised and gods were worshipped. This intensive workshop in Dance and Sacred Movement will include:
• Basic yoga poses and movements for meditation
• The Five Tibetans or Five Rites
• How to use dancing to raise and direct energy
• Symbolic dance to represent forces of nature, totems and spirits
• Basic belly dancing as sacred art
• Ecstatic dance as worship of the Divine
• Circle dances commonly used in Wiccan ritual
• How to perform (and lead) a Spiral Dance
All levels of physical ability are welcome! Please wear loose and comfortable clothing.
~ July 17 (Vernon,) July 24 (Kelowna) ~
Blood and Breath Control
Mystics from ancient times have used the breath and blood flow to induce meditative states. Lady Sable Aradia will instruct you in an intensive workshop in the use of these techniques, including:
• The importance of proper breathing
• Basic Pranayama and Yogic Breathing
• Introduction to the chakras and chakra breathing exercises
• Postures to alter blood flow
• Basic biofeedback techniques
• Binding and sensory deprivation as meditation methods
• The Breath of Fire to raise energy
No one will be asked to participate in anything that makes her uncomfortable or puts her at risk.
~ September 11 (Vernon,) October 9 (Kelowna) ~
The Scourge is the most misunderstood and controversial magickal technique used in Wicca. More than just a tool, it is a symbol of suffering as a path to enlightenment. This workshop will include:
• A discussion and debate as to the necessity of pain and suffering
• A discussion of near death experiences, disability and Rites of Passage, and how they awaken shamanic power
• Examining how your times of suffering have improved your character and personal power
• Ritual to release limiting attachments
• Guided meditation to meet and come to terms with your Shadow Self
• Creating minor discomfort to induce trance states
• The traditional, proper technique of Scourging in Wicca and why it works.
~ October 16 (Vernon,) October 23 (Kelowna) ~
The Great Rite
The Great Rite, or Sacred Marriage, is an ancient and powerful magickal technique to commune with the Divine. Lady Sable Aradia will instruct you in an intensive workshop on all aspects of the Great Rite, including:
• The theory behind the Great Rite
• Balancing polarities of yin and yang energy
• Sex magick theory and a discussion of how to practice it
• A moving meditation to honour the Divine forces of Creation
• Tantric breathing exercises
• Drawing Down the Moon and Sun
• Performing a Symbolic Great Rite and how to perform an actual Great Rite
~ November 27 (Vernon,) December 4 (Kelowna) ~
I am offering these classes to CWABC members at $25 each; $50 each for non-CWABC members. If you register for all the classes by January 31st, you will get all eight classes at $150 (members) or $300 (non-members,) which is basically getting two free classes! I hope you will consider checking them out. Vernon classes will be at my shop, The Threads That Bind Us, and the Kelowna classes will likely be at Quality Greens or Alternative Pathways. I will have more information closer to the date. Please email the Temple for details using the Contact Us link.
|Posted by Sable Aradia on January 4, 2011 at 8:36 PM||comments (4)|
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!
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.