Category Archives: Paganism

Samhain Musings

Dark StaircaseToday is the day that Wiccans and many other Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere observe Samhain.  So happy Samhain!1

Among other things, Samhain represents the mythological and metaphorical descent into the underworld, the realm of Death.  It’s the traditional start of a season where life slows down (or used to, before our technology allowed us to keep a fast-paced frenzy going year-round) and offers much time for introspection and reflection.  It’s also a great time for deconstruction of oneself, one’s ego, and how one looks at the world.  In Gardner’s Myth of the Goddess, this is represented by the guardians to Death’s Domain when they challenge the Goddess and tell her she must remove all her jewelry and even her garments.  She had to bare her true self to descend.

I find it somewhat amusing that the modern adaptation of this holiday — Halloween — involves donning costumes and pretending to be someone or something else, when Samhain traditionally is also about divesting oneself of such pretense and facing the Darkness without one’s armor and accepting that such armor cannot truly protect.

Of course, that’s a frightening realization to embrace.  We tend to like our sense of control, especially over ourselves.  We like to think that we can present to the world who we want to be and have this accepted.  And there is some witchery there.  Letting go of that and becoming bare, vulnerable to any who may see the real us rather than the perfected image we prefer to present is a terrifying process.  It’s terrifying to let ourselves be confronted with the real us, for that matter.

But it’s also necessary.  To know who we truly are — stripped of all the pretense and illusions we create for ourselves and others — also enables us to improve ourselves and even reconstruct us.  Often, we can do that in ways so that we are more substantively like the person we imagine and project ourselves to be.  But making that improvement requires we first take a close look at admit we are not that person yet.

So to all my readers, especially any who follow a path where Samhain has meaning to you, I wish you a blessed Samhain.  May you find the serenity and courage to face the Darkness alone, naked (only figuratively, if you prefer), and vulnerable.  May you find comfort in the journey and hold tight to the hope of seeing the First Light of Yule.


1Happy Beltane to any Wiccans and other Pagans Down Under who are celebrating that instead.

It’s almost like I planned it.

Last night, I led my coven through a guided meditation for our full moon ritual.  After much consideration and considering the astrological configuration (sun in Libra, Moon in Aries) for this full moon, I somehow fell upon the idea of making the focus of the ritual be about the third pillar of the Witches’ Pyramid, “To Dare.”  In the traditions I’ve seen, that pillar is usually associated with the element of water, whereas Libra and Aries are an air sign and fire sign respectively.

My idea for the ritual is to consider how Libra’s energy toward finding harmony and balance can actually become a source of blocking the need o push on and face the unknown and the fears that surround it in an act of daring.  The meditation suggested that Aries’s impulsiveness and impression could provide the necessary contrast and catalyst to push past and delve into the depths of daring.

After we finished the mediation, I realized that I had placed the setting of this meditation in a stone edifice (a high tower with a great room at the top).  The stone provided us with a link to the element of Earth, the missing fourth.  And the element was providing the foundation and stability for the working, as is its nature.

I laughed as I realized that without even planning it, I had created a nicely balance meditation in which all the elements were present and invoked in the work we were doing.  Pretty good, considering I don’t actually work much with the elements in my personal practice.

Let us bring forth that which has quietly formed in dark places.

Happy Yule![1]

The winter solstice — that point where the sun’s rays are least direct on the Northern Hemisphere — officially takes place tomorrow morning at 5:30 UTC.  For those of us in the Eastern time zone (UTC -5:00), that translates to tonight/tomorrow morning at 12:30am.

The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year and the triumphant return of the light, longer days, and warmth.  To some Pagans and Wiccans, it represents the rebirth of the sun god.  Yule brings a sense of rejoicing, the darkest time following Samhain has is about to pass and the half-year reign of the underworld will begin to wane and give way to the brightness and warmth that is vital to our survival.

However, I think it’s important to remember as we begin to pass back into more light that we need the time of darkness to survive as well.  After all, the growing season and bountiful harvest rely on the gestational period of the dark winter months, just as our own psyches require downtime and decreased activity.

Yule marks the rebirth of light into a fragile, not entirely ready form, but it’s a birth that takes place thanks to the things that have been rejuvenated and seething in the darkness.  And while that fragile light shall grow stronger and eventually overcome the darkness for its time of reign, it will also be nourished by the waning darkness and the slumber it encourages.

So let the light shine in this quiet time, not as a brilliant force to be reckoned with, but as a comforting glimmer and a promise of what is to come.

Note:
[1]  Or for any readers who are in the Southern Hemisphere, happy Litha/Summer Solstice.  I hope you will indulge me in the rest of this post, however, as I focus on the mysteries I am currently experiencing/working with.

A book on Pagan minorities.

The other day, Steve Hayes brought the book, “Shades of Faith:  Minority Voices in Paganism” to my attention.  As I’ve been highly interested in the intersectionality between various minority groups, discovering a book that discusses minority people within my own religious community came as a terrific boon.

In her introduction, editor Crystal Blanton describes her own experience as a Black[1] Wiccan High Priestess thus:

I am accustomed to being who I am among those who are different.  I am also accustomed to seeing the world a little differently because my experiences in the world are different.  I am used to being the one that people have turned to when they wanted to ask a question about cultures outside of their own.  This has become a part of what I recognize as a gift the Gods have graced me with; and like the pattern of my life, I have found a path to purpose in being the minority within the minority.

Ms. Blanton acknowledges that some minority people within Paganism have felt alienated within the Pagan community, and I hope that some of the essays within this analogy will provide examples of such experiences.  I am hoping that as a Pagan community builder, I can find ways in which to make my own community more inclusive by discovering needs and issues that I may not have considered before.  After all, I agree with Ms. Blanton’s assessment of how a diversity of voices only strengthens us:

The voice of differences add in an element of harmony to the collective voices of any path or movement.  We are in the human and social movement of spiritual understanding; Black, White, Hispanic, Native or other.  Together we harmonize on a frequency that is powerful enough to manifest divinity on earth and bring spiritual rest to so much collective suffering and pain.  I am honored to be the black key on the piano.


Note:

[1]  This is the description that Ms. Blanton chose for herself.  As such, I felt it fitting to use her own terminology.

Pagans, Wiccans, psychics, and jargon

Pentagram with a circle around it

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Emilyperson left a great comment on Friday’s post:

I’m curious, when you first started hanging around Pagans, was there a lot of jargon that confused your young Christian self? I wouldn’t expect you to have been familiar with things like different deities, symbols, and procedures, but does the slang tend to be as far from mainstream American slang as the fundamentalists’?

To be honest, I can’t say as I recall much about my early exposure to Paganism.  It would be hard for me to evaluate how I handled the introduction to Pagan, Wiccan, and psychic concepts and terminology thirteen years ago.  So rather than trying to remember, I’m going to just take a look at how I perceive such jargon now, how it relates to Wicca, Paganism, and psychic phenomena/practices, and try to guess how an “outsider” or “newbie” might perceive and experience an encounter with such terminology.[1]

I think that Pagan, Wiccan, and psychic jargon can be just as offbeat and unusual as fundamentalist Christian jargon.  And to be frank, there is a lot of it, due to the great diversity of practices and beliefs that falls under those collective umbrellas (each one is pretty broad and contains great diversity in its own right).

However, I also think that the jargon isn’t quite as central to the Pagan/Wiccan/psychic identities.  You can learn a lot about all of those things without coming into contact with terms like “chakras,” “arcana,” “ardanes,” and “visualization.”  You can learn a lot of the basics and get a lot of information before delving into such technical, specialized terms.

Compare this to fundamentalist and even evangelical Christianity, where the first step involves being “born again,” which is a jargon-y term.  In reality, I think fundamentalist jargon and one’s knowledge of it is often used as part of the fundamentalist identity and a way to prove oneself part of the “in crowd.”

This brings me up to my second point, in which I think the religio-magical movements I’m now a part of tend to be far better at presenting our jargon to “outsiders” in an accessible way.  This is done both through personal conversations and the constantly growing introductory literature available.

I think this can at least partly be attributed to the fact that these are relatively new movements and that many of the adherents are still converts rather than people who were raised by Pagan parents[2].  As such, they are religious movements that are more geared towards welcoming new members and making everything understandable and accessible, even to the point of often anticipating what terms may be unfamiliar to the “uninitiated.”

Fundamentalists, on the other hand, tend to be more insular and seem to just expect everyone to automatically know what it means to be “born again,” “sanctified,” or “demonically oppressed.”

Notes:
[1]  It would be awesome if any “newbies” and “outsiders” would pipe up in comments and offer their thoughts.

[2]  This certainly isn’t universal.  I do know a growing number of second-generation Pagans and a few third-generation Pagans.  However, I think we converts outnumber them considerably.

On Mediumship

Sunday evening, I went to Wegman’s to pick up a salad for Monday’s lunch as well as sodas and snacks for the week.  Derek, the cashier who rang me up, inquired about where I had my face painted (I was done up like Tigger), and I told him it was at the annual psychic fair at Psychic’s Thyme.  He asked me about that and then asked if I believed in ghosts.  I simply smiled and said, “Well, I sorta have to, seeing as I’m a medium.”  I think that answer rather surprised him, as he started babbling a bit.  He mostly started talking about the “Paranormal Activity” movies.

This is something I’ve noticed with some people.  While they are fascinated by movies and tales of the paranormal, they really get uncomfortable around those of us who are (or claim to be, if my more skeptical readers prefer) “the real deal.”  I’m not sure whether it’s because they find the idea of spirits frightening[1] and therefore find a spooky, controllable fantasy more appealing than if they were to consider it a reality they do not understand.  Or maybe it’s for some other reason.

Of course, in reality, communicating with spirits isn’t nearly as interesting or titillating as the stuff they put in Paranormal Activity or similar movies.  In a lot of ways, spirit communication is quite ordinary and unremarkable.  Granted, it’s touching in its own way, but in a very different way than the normal thrills.

Spirit communication is ultimately about connection with our greater spiritual comity.  In Saturday’s post, I spoke of the ancestors as a source of wisdom and the creators of the world we inherited.  Spirit communication is an opportunity to connect with those predecessors — though more recently passed loved ones are the most likely to connect with us this way and maintain that sense of continuity and community.  It’s a way to remember them, honor them, and learn just a bit more from them.

But then, I’m not sure everyone values that the same.

Notes:
[1]
  To be honest, I’m more inclined to find them annoying, especially on those occasions where they show up in every day life.  After about the third time I look behind myself to see if the presence I’m feeling is connected to a physical body in a public space, I start to worry that the other people are starting to think I’m weird.[2]

[2]  In fairness, they’d be right…

Gerald Gardner’s Myth of the Goddess

The first edition cover of Witchcraft Today, w...

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While I do not consider myself Wiccan and I’m certainly not an Initiate of Gardnerian Wicca or any of it’s close relatives, my own understanding of witchcraft has been strongly influenced by the thoughts and writings of various such Initiates, including the public writers of Gerald Gardner himself.

Gardner presented a piece of writing in his books which he referred to as “The Myth of the Goddess.”[1]  He indicated that it was one of the — if not THE — central myths of the form of witchcraft he taught.  It also happens to be one of my favorite myths.  As it features the god of the witches as Death himself, I thought it appropriate to post it the day before Samhain.

Now, G. (the Witch Goddess) had never loved, but she would solve all the Mysteries, even the Mystery of Death; and so she journeyed to the Nether Lands.

The Guardians of the Portals challenged her, “Strip off thy garments, lay aside thy jewels; for naught may ye bring with ye into this our land.”

So she laid down her garments and her jewels, and was bound , as are all who enter the Realms of Death the Mighty One.

Such was her beauty that Death himself knelt and kissed her feet, saying, “Blessed be thy feet that have brought the in these ways.  Abide with me, let me but place my cold hand on thy heart.”

She replied, “I love thee not.  Why dost thou cause all things that I love and take delight in to fade and die?”

“Lady,” replied Death, “’tis Age and Fate, against which I am helpless.  Age causes all things to wither; but when men die at the end of time I give them rest and peace, and strength so that they may return.  But thou, thou art lovely.  Return not; abide with me.”

But she answered, “I love thee not.”

Then Death said, “An thou received not my hand on thy heart, thou must receive Death’s scourge.”

“It is Fate; better so,” she said, and she knelt; and Death scourged her, and she cried, “I feel the pangs of love.”

And Death said, “Blessed be,” and gave her the Fivefold Kiss, saying, “Thus only may ye attain to joy and knowledge.”

And he taught her all the Mysteries.  And they loved and were one, and he taught her all the Magics.

For there are three great events in the life of man; Love, Death, and Resurrection in a new body; and Magic controls them all.  For to fulfil love you must return again at the same time and place as the loved one, and you must remember and love them again.  But to be reborn you must die, and be ready for a new body; and to die you must be born; and without love you may not be born.  And these be all the Magics.

Notes:
[1]
At least that’s the name he used for it in Witchcraft Today.  In The Meaning of Witchcraft, he renamed it to “The Magical Legend of the Witches.”

The Underworld

As Samhain approaches, my thoughts turn to the ancestors and the realms of the underworld.  As a witch whose practice tends to be highly shamanistic in nature, I’m quite familiar with these realms and spend a bit of time exploring them and drawing on the wisdom of their inhabitants.

Some of my friends — including Pagans who tend to focus on the brighter side of the divine and upper- and mid-world beings occasionally ask me about my interest in the darker places of our spiritual cosmos.  They find the underworld realms a frightening and daunting place.  And there wariness is not unwarranted.  The underworld can be a strange chaotic, and troubling place.  After all, half-formed and malformed things live their, including our own shadows.  As a witch, I’m thankful that I have guardians, guides, and other allies to walk with me in such places.

But just as I wouldn’t amputate an arm just because because it’s broken or is suffering from pain, the troubling aspects of the underworld are not sufficient reason for me to ignore it.  There is great power and wisdom waiting there.

In addition to everything else it is,[1] it is the home of the ancestors, those who have gone before us, built up the world we lived in, and even gave us our lives.  These are the ones who have set the stage we now walk upon and helped form the person we would become as we walked on them.  The ability to visit them, thank them, and learn from their experiences is cherished.

The fact that we come from the ancestors who inhabit the underworld is also one of the things that makes the underworld the home of all potential.  It is the place where dark — as in unrevealed and unformed — forces exist, waiting to be given shape, form, and purpose.  As a shamanistic witch, I seek to seek out and explore these potentials that lay in the underworld so that I may draw them out and pull them into something in this realm.  It is the realm which provides the source material for new beginnings.

Notes:
[1]  Indeed, trying to describe everything that can be found in the underworld (or mid-world or upper world, for that matter) is not something I can do in a thousand blog posts, let alone this single post.

Prayer(s) for Mourning

Recluse Grave

Image by eqqman via Flickr

(This was written at the request of a friend.  May she find them helpful.)

Ancient Lord,

Receive
my loved one who has passed beyond this world.  Guide him to a place of
honor in the Land of the Ancestors, so that he may find the peace he
deserves.  Grant him rest that he might prepare for the next great
adventure that waits him.

So mote it be.

Lady of Tears,

Grant
me comfort now as I mourn the passing of my loved one.  Let me remember
and cherish the love that we shared, the love that now fuels my sorrow.
 In my grief let my memories of him, his trials, and his triumphs burn
bright that I might give testimony to his life and deeds..  Let him
live forever in my heart, where age and infirmity cannot touch him.

So mote it be.


Prayer for Living Worship

The crescent as a neo-pagan symbol of the Trip...

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Blessed Lady,

I know that all acts of love and pleasure are your worship.  Therefore,
please help me this day to be more loving.  Help me to recognize those
opportunities to bring smiles the faces of others.  Grant me the wisdom
and strength that I might be a delight and source of joy for those
around me.  Grant me gratitude that i might treasure my own blessings,
and generosity that I might share them with others.

In this way, let your worship grow in my heart and overflow into my life and the world around me.

So mote it be.