Category Archives: Witchcraft

Control, Influence, and Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Image by Dana Durell via Flickr

While I was blogging yesterday about community, church, and worship my Zemanta plugin suggested a possibly related link with a quote from the author, Madeleine L’Engle.  I found part of that quote very interesting:

Artists have always been drawn to the wild, wide elements they cannot control or understand — the sea, mountains, fire. To be an artist means to approach the light, and that means to let go our control, to allow our whole selves to be placed with absolute faith in that which is greater than we are. The novel we site down to write, and the one we end up writing may be very different, just as the Jesus we grasp and the Jesus who grasps us may also differ.

We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God, or we can write the great American novel. But the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord, or hope to be part of the creative process, is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control.

Personally, I think L’Engle is onto something profound here, and it’s something that is as important in witchcraft as it is in L’Engle’s faith.  That profound truth is that it’s never about control, because control is an illusion.  Whether you’re talking about art, faith, or magic, there is no such thing as absolute control.

But something that L’Engle points out that there is a difference between control — especially absolute control — and influence and the creative process.  It is possibl to not still be in control and still hold considerable influence.  It is possible to be a less-than-perfect co-creator.  In fact, it’s the only thing we can be.  I’d even go so far as to say that it’s the only thing we should be.

Our job is not to gain mastery over everything.  That’s good, because that would be an impossible task.  (And my gods and my faith do not require me to undertake impossible tasks.)  Instead, ours is to look at the reality around us and identify what we can do and do exactly that.  No more.  No less.

Magic does not change that goal.  It is not a means by which we discover all the secrets of the universe and therefore become its master.  It’s merely another tool we can use to manifest our limited and imperfect influence.  And it’s a nice tool to have.

I also like how L’Engle makes that connection between faith and art.  I think it’s a great one, and I think there’s a similar connection between art and magic.  After all, they are both processes of creation, and I think all such processes are ultimately of the same essense.

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Choice and Power

Yesterday, I blogged about how the belief that we have no choices in situations is detrimental to our ability to live an ethical life.  Today, I want to discuss another reason why this belief is problematic for witches(1).  A belief that we have no choice in a given situation also destroys our personal power in a given situation as well.

We in the Pagan community talk about self-empowerment a lot.  It’s a key reason a lot of us came to a Pagan path, at least in my experience.  However, sometimes we talk about it in rather vague terms, never really making it clear what it means to be self-empowered.  To that end, I would like to suggest my own definition:  Self-empowerment is the act of embracing the realization that no matter what situation we may find ourselves in, we always have the ability to choose how we will respond and act.

Note that self-empowerment doesn’t mean we always get to control the situations we find ourselves in.  Nor does it mean that we can magically change everything in our environment to suit our needs.  Such a concept of self-empowerment would simply be out of step with and contrary to reality.  Hardships are going to befall us.  People are going to do things we don’t like and that hurt us.  Circumstances are going to limit our options and even make us face some unpleasant choices.  Those who want to find a way to turn their lives into a fairy tale need to keep looking.  They will not find it here.(2)

But what the principle of self-empowerment tells us is that no matter what those situations are, our actions are our own to choose.  It tells us that even if our choices are limited to unpleasant ones, there are still choices to make.(3)  Self-empowerment teaches us that no matter what is beyond our control, who we choose to be and how we choose to act is still our personal domain.  And that is an incredible power to wield, in my opinion.

Saying we have no choice in a situation robs us of that power.  It turns us into victims of our circumstances rather than people who are working to not only make the best of our circumstances, but improve it insofar as we can.  And that is a great tragedy.

And again, this is a creeping problem.  The belief that we had no choice tends to spread throughout our lives.  What started as one instance where we thought we had no control or no power becomes two.  Then it becomes five.  Then it becomes a regular occurrence.  Soon, we are never empowered because we fail to see our choices.  And then we wonder why our lives are nothing like we want them to be.(4)

Now some may be ready to ask me, “But what about magic?”  And it’s a good question, so I will answer it.  Back in 2007, I blogged about the role one’s will plays in magic.  At that time, I suggested that our will is the part of our psyche that initiates action.  It’s the part of us that actually goes about making all of these choices, and it’s central to the process of working magic.

So what happens when we say that part of us is incapable of making choices because there are none to be made?  We are effectively subjugating it or turning it off.  A belief that we have no choices actually hinders our will.  And a subjugated or hindered will simply cannot operate effectively.  Which means our ability to do magic effectively disappears as well.

(1)  As witches are not the only people who believe in or value self-empowerment, I’m sure many other people will be able to identify with much of what I’m saying here.  I think that’s great.  But since I’m a witch, I’m going to focus on witches.  Though I do hope anyone who isn’t a witch still shares with me what value they might find in my thoughts.

(2)  In reality, I suspect they won’t find it anywhere.  But I respect their right to continue searching.  That’s their choice to make.

(3)  The other advantage to realizing you still have choices, even if they’re all less than ideal, is that it gives you the freedom to think creatively and look for even more choices.  The ones you see immediately may not be the only ones laying about.

(4)  Of course, there are also times when our lives are nothing like we want them to be because our desires are simply not realistic.  Again, this is because self-empowerment is not about living a fairy tale life.  Sometimes, we just have to find a way to live within our limitations.  But my experience is that even within our limitations, there’s a life that’s well worth living.

Speak not of such things for they frighten me!

The following questions come from The Reverend Boy:

If I remember correctly, I believe you said you were a pagan or Wiccan. What about that faith / spirituality gives you fulfilment? Do you have a community with whom to share your experiences?

This is a great question in that it really makes me think. More importantly, it challenges me to express in words things that often defy description. And of course, it also forces me to talk about some things that might cause some of my friends to worry and even consider calling a mental health professional — or worse, an exorcist.

I’d say that my fulfillment from my spirituality is due to two closely related themes. The first is the tendency of Pagan spirituality to celebrate, cherish, and even honor this life. The second theme is the close and curious (if sometimes frustrating and nerve-wracking) relationship I have with Freyja.

Like I said, these two things are quite intertwined, because Freyja is all about life and its joys and sorrows. She is fascinated by people and social settings. There’s been more than one time that I’ve been at a gathering of friends at a coffee shop, dining with friends at a restaurant, or otherwise out and about with other people, and the next thing I knew, she was there with me, taking it all in. She’s fascinated (and sometimes disgusted, I grant you) by how people interact with each other and all kinds of details of my life and the lives of those around me. And seeing it all from her perspective in those moments turns even the most “mundane” experiences into moments of awe and contemplation.

The fact that she’s there at a moment’s notice in any situation is also incredible to me. It creates a very conversational relationship between the two of us. Talking to her is not something that’s limited to rituals (though rituals are wonderful and important things as well), but something that can come at any moment. It’s a comforting and casual thing. Well, okay, it does get annoying at times, like when she pipes up about my eating habbits. But in the end, it’s all worth it.

I’m also finding lately that my faith is becoming very community-oriented. I find myself thinking in terms of what I can do to help others, even in the smallest ways imaginable. To me, even building community is becoming and important way. And my Pagan faith gives me ways to go about helping in this manner (and the occasional kick to keep moving in that direction). And again, that’s all about celebrating life, not just as an indivdiaul, but as a group of individuals.

I’m going to hold off on talking about my spiritual community (though I will point to a couple of previous posts on that particular subject. But I have more on that topic brewing in my mind. So I want to give it a bit more time to percolate before I dump it out into the blogosphere.

Oh, and for anyone wondering, the title of this post is a paraphrase of the response that a witch was supposed to give whenever the subject of witchcraft came up, according to the Ardanes.

Taking another bold step while quaking in my shoes

One of the inherent problems with agreeing to enter into a working relationship with a specific deity is that said deity actually expects you to work. And eventually, that work will include tasks that require you to step outside of your comfort zones and do things you’re not sure you’re ready for. This morning, I experienced one such instance in my own life.

A small group of friends and I have been talking about getting together more regularly to do ritual. This is the group (or at least the core part, though I hope we invite a few of the others for Yule) that gets together every year to celebrate Samhain together. The rest of the year, we get together more sporadically. As I said, that’s something a few of us would like to change.

As I was driving in to work this morning, I got thinking about this fact, and the upcoming solstice. A couple of us had been talking about the fact that we really should do a Yule ritual. However, no one has sat down to actually make any plans. It was this last fact I was considering when Freyja decided to speak her mind.

“You know, you could plan the ritual.”

I blinked and immediately thought to myself that I’m not sure where I’d begin. Suddenly, I had a handful of ideas running through my head. Obviously, she wasn’t going to let me off that easy. So I thought about it for the rest of the drive to the office. Once I got here, I made a call and offered to plan the ritual. It turns out that this was a good thing, because the others had already agreed to do ritual for Yule and even set the date, but weren’t sure what they were going to do. So it looks like I’ll be taking the lead on the planning as long as they provide the space.

I’m also getting the inkling (another one of her ideas, I’m afraid) that I’m going to suggest that we trade off. I’ll plan the solstices and equinoxes if the others will take care of the other four high days.

Egads, what have I gotten myself into? But then, I keep getting told that I need to quit hiding and take on a more active role. I guess this is a step in that direction.

Darn goddesses, anyway.

Leaping into Darkness?

I’ve been thinking about writing a spiritually-themed post for the past couple of weeks. However, until tonight, I haven’t gotten around to it. In part, this is due to laziness on my part. I simply haven’t taken the time to sit down and try to put my thoughts in order.

Of course, it’s also in part because we have entered the dark half of the year, and the part of the Wheel where silence tends to reign. So my thoughts have turned inward, and I find myself wanting to spend most of my time mulling about spiritual matters — especially how they apply to my life — rather than blathering on about them.

And then there’s the fact that my musings and experiences have taken me into realms that I’m simply not sure I want to talk about quite yet. In many ways, I’m still adjusting to recent events and new things in my life and I’m not ready to be broadcasting some of it. So in many ways, I expect this post will be short and somewhat vague.

It is clear that I have started a new leg of my spiritual journey, and one that will be guided and influenced quite heavily by my lady and patroness, Freyja. This is not surprising, as anyone who knows me well likely has a good sense of how dear and important she is to me. So it’s probably not too surprising that she has chosen to strengthen and deepen our relationship.

Of course, this has not been a sudden thing. Indeed, the first conscious indication that new things were coming occurred during the Friday night seance at the naturist festival I went to back in August. During that seance, Freyja began to prepare me energetically. I spent the entire evening feeling like my head was buzzing. (She even made her presence known to Belinda in order to confirm for me what was going on.)

Since that time, things have continued to progress between her and I, and it’s been an exhilarating if nerve-wracking experience. I’m not entirely sure where everything is going, though I’m becoming more comfortable with the overall experience.

I do know that it means that I’m going to end up taking a more visible and active role in the world around me. I have work to do, and I have work to do in order to get ready for it.

The Gods and Me

I figure while I’m at it, I also might as well answer a few more of Mahud’s excellent questions.

How do Pagan ?gods? have an active role in your life?

To answer this question, I think it’s important to pair it with another question: What is the nature of the gods? After all, the nature of a divine being is going to seriously affect how you interract with such a being.

Different Pagans have different understanding of what the gods are. Some (and for the most part, I fall into this category) see them as individual beings. Others see them as facets of a single Supreme Divinity. Others see the gods as archetypes developed through the collective unconscious. And there are probably other understandings that people have adopted I’m not even aware of.

As I said, I tend to see the gods as unique individuals. I accept that they may ultimately be manifestations of a single Ultimate Source. But if that’s the case, then I’m inclined to understand everything as being a manifestation of that same Ultimate Source. Gods, humans, animals, and everything else that exists come from there. But just like I’d treat different people as individuals despite being manifestations of the same Ultimate Source, I’m inclined to do the same with the gods. Some I’ve built deep relationships with. Some I know in passing. And others, well I wouldn’t know them from Horus.

Of course, the other thing to understand is that I don’t see my gods as gods in the popular sense (a sense that is mainly popular because it’s based in the Judeo-Christian understanding of Divinity, which dominates our society). That’s to say I don’t see them as omnipotent, omniscient, or even omnipresent. To me, my gods are more like the spirits of many indegenous tribes.

I think that Gardner put it best when he talked about the gods of witchcraft as being “little gods” (as opposed to an all-powerful creator). They were great, but their greatness ultimately had limits, too. In fact, Gardner talked about one of those limits when he said that the gods of the witches “wanted men to be happy, but needed man’s help to bring about their happiness.” (That may not be an exact quote, but I don’t have my copy of Witchcraft Today with me.)

And that leads me to the original question about the active role the gods have in my life. I see my relationship with my gods as being an active partnership. They both want things for me and want things from me. And these two things often interrelate. Years ago, I once wrote that the point of witchcraft (at least as I understand and practice it) was to manifest the nature and gifts of the gods into your life and the lives of those around you. Today, I think that’s still the most concise answer I can give, even if it is a little vague.

So I talk to my gods in trance. I pray to them. I draw their essence down into my life. All to bring about this manifestation I’m talking about.

Do some pagans create their own gods?

Absolutely. It’s never been something I’ve personally felt a need or desire to do, and I have to wonder how effective such a practice is. But to each their own, I suppose.

Other Questions and Answers
Nature and Paganism

Exploring mixed feelings

While checking out The Wild Hunt today, I ran across Jason’s post where he talks about an attempt to get a fortune telling law overturned in Casper, Wyoming.

Let me first state that I wish Ms. Forest the best of luck. I am a strong believer that such laws should be removed. Having had readings from a handful of professional tarot readers, I believe that they offer an excellent service. And while I might understand the city’s desire to prevent potential con artists from defrauding people through tarot readings and other psychic readings, I do not think that such a blanket prohibitiion is the way to go about it. (Truth be told, it’s my experience that the psychic community does a fairly good job of policing itself.) I also think that such a blanket prohibition singles out Pagans and is unethical until governments also look to address the practice of prophecies and words of knowledge that goes on in many charismatic and Pentecostal churches, churches which often turn around and ask for donations. (I even attended one such church that brought in a “professional prophet” for one service and took a special offering that went to said prophet for her ministry.)

That being said, I do find myself bothered by one part of Ms. Forest’s argument. I’m not at all comfortable with the following statement:

It keeps her from charging for tarot card readings, a key aspect of Wiccan religion, she said.

While I certainly think that tarot readings are a handy tool for Witches and Pagans alike, I am not at all comfortable the suggestion that it qualifies as a “key aspect” of our practice. And I certainly would not consider the kind of readings professional readers offer client for monetary compensation specifically essential. (After all, there is a difference between what is essential or key and even that which is highly beneficial.) To present these readings as so key suggests to me that Ms. Forest and I practice rather different religions. (Of course, this is not entirely surprising, as I don’t consider myself Wiccan.)

Of course, it is entirely possible that Ms. Forest is making this claim simply for the sake of political expediency. And I can certainly see the appeal in such an approach. After all, a claim of religious freedom is probably the best argument against this law. But again, I’m not sure that claiming it as a key practice is entirely necessary to make that argument.

Of course, ultimately, I don’t know whether Ms. Forest made her claim out of sincere belief or in the name of political expediency. I cannot and will not judge her motives. But in either case, the idea just leaves me somewhat uncomfortable, despite the fact that I agree with her goal to get this law removed.

Prayer, magic, and my relationship with my gods.

Today, Deborah Lipp offered a brief summary of her thoughts on the differences between magic (or more specifically, spells) and prayer on her blog. It was nice to see someone whose thoughts on the subject echo my own. I’ve always had a problem with the tendency for some to equate spells to prayer, simply because of the nature and source of power that Deborah describes. One of the things that drew me to the path I’m walking is the understanding that I am an active participant in my life and in the process of determining my eventual destiny. To me, the suggestion that spells are simply a way to ask the gods to give you what you want is contrary to that very principle. I work magic because it’s a way I contribute to my life and the achievement of my goals.

Of course, as I think about the whole topic, I also realize that the suggestion that spellwork is the same as prayer bothers me because it is contrary to my own understanding of prayer and the very relationship I have with my gods. I’m not the kind of person to ask my gods to give me something, but rather the kind of person to ask them for wisdom and guidance on how to attain what I desire for myself. I would ask them to help me learn to make my own efforts as effective as possible. I would ask them to help me be aware enough to see the opportunities I’m working to create. Asking them to just give me whatever it is I want would be unfair, both to them and to myself. It’s simply not what our relationship is about.

Concepts in Magic: Wyrd

Back in January, I launched a series of entries called “Concepts in Magic,” starting with a discussion of creation. I followed this with the second entry, that one about will. As I sat at my computer, I decided that the most logical third entry should be about wyrd, as it’s where the previous two concept meet and interract.

Wyrd is a term from Norse mythology. However, I believe that the concept of wyrd exists in most, if not all, magical systems and religious traditions. This can be seen in the fact that wyrd has many aspects in common with such concepts as karma or fate (though none of them are exactly the same). Given the fact that my own practices are heavily influenced by Norse thought, I will focus on wyrd in this entry. However, I strongly believe that much of what I say translates well to other traditions in some form or another.

At its most basic level of understanding, wyrd is the principle that states that the current moment in time is the cumulative result of all past events and choices. If a person takes a moment to ponder all of the circumstances and choices in their lives, they discover a trail which has led them to the point where they stand at this very moment. As they do this, they are pondering and coming to understand wyrd.

Often times, people come to understand wyrd as a personal thing. You will find both modern heathens and Icelandic authors that speak of an individual’s wyrd much like one might talk about one’s karma in the Eastern traditions. While there may be some benefit to this point of view, I have come to the realization that from a magical viewpoint, the idea of personal wyrd is merely an illusion. What we often like to see as “his wyrd,” “her wyrd,” “your wyrd,” or “my wyrd” is merely a limited perspective of a tiny piece of a much greater tapestry, true wyrd. In reality, there is only wyrd, a single fabric of reality that connects and supports everyone and everything. And it is this larger picture of wyrd that is important to a magical mindset.

It is this interconnectedness of all people and things through a single, universal wyrd that makes magic possible. This is because each of us shapes this universal wyrd on some small scale, thereby affecting the greater whole. Indeed, it is our ability to shape wyrd in some way that makes us participants in the creative process. After all, it is wyrd that holds creation together.

In reality, every living being in the universe can and does shape wyrd, even those who don’t understand or believe in it. However, the magician does so both consciously and willfully. A magician comes to understand the nature of wyrd and his contribution to it, thereby enabling himself to influence wyrd in the way he wishes.

Of course, a wise magician does this respectfully and carefully. Wyrd is governed by certain principles (often known as the primal rules or orlog), and so is the process of shaping it. Indeed, one of the great challenges of working effective magic is coming to understand the governing principles behind wyrd well enough to shape it effectively and responsibly. That is an ongoing learning experience which the responsible magician or witch will devote themselves to for the res of their lives — or as long as they choose to work magic.

Weddings and Funerals

It’s been quite some time since I’ve participated in Witches Weekly. When I checked the site on a whim and read the current questions, I felt they were well worth considering.

If you were to plan your own Wedding or Funeral ceremony, would you create two separate ceremonies for pagan and non-pagan folk, or would you just plan a ceremony around your beliefs. How would you feel if any non-pagan friends or family did not wish to attend such a ceremony?

This is a question (at least when discussing weddings) I used to ponder when I was dating Mike. In that situation, the question was further complicated by the fact that he was not Pagan, but nominally Christian. Because of that fact, I felt that a completely Pagan ceremony made absolutely no sense. So I had always envisioned a single ceremony that we both found acceptable. Because of our difference in faiths, I figured that it would probably be fairly generic, and would not bother any of our potential guests.

If I was marrying another Pagan, I’m not entirely sure what I would do. On the one hand, I’d be inclined to just do a Pagan themed ceremony and not bother with another one. After all, most of my friends would be okay with such a service, as they respect my beliefs and would be willing to respect incorporating my beliefs into my own wedding ceremony. And to be perfectly frank, those who could not handle that choice would also be unable to get over the fact that I was marrying another man. As such, they wouldn’t show up, and I see little reason to worry about their sensibilities because of that.

But as I think about it, I think that I don’t really want a “Pagan wedding” at all. I want a handfasting, and I want it in the truest sense of the word. I want a private, magical act which not only affirms our bonds with one another, but actually creates (moreso than they already exist) and strengthens them. I don’t feel that kind of magical act is appropriate for the normal participant-spectator model that most weddings involve. After all, a huge guest list does not work well with the small numbers needed to keep everyone a direct participant.

Also, such a handfasting does not lend itself to meeting the needs of the civil marriage ceremony and contract (assuming I’m ever granted access to such civil rights, mind you). And even if it did, I’m not sure I’d want to combine the two. So perhaps I will have two “ceremonies,” a civil ceremony where the papers are signed and most guests are invited, and then the magical act, which is kept between myself, my love, and those who we trust to work with us in the working of such magic. (Of course, that all assumes I have a lover open to these things, himself.)

As for my funeral, I’m not sure I care much about that one. While I see my wedding as something for my lover and myself, I see a funeral as being for the benefit of those loved ones I’ve left behind. To be perfectly honest, I’m inclined to let my closest loved ones plan the funeral service in any way that will help them to grieve properly. However, this permission will come with the caveat that if they invite a Christian minister to speak and he goes into an evangelistic spiel, I will haunt them for the rest of their lives.