Tag Archives: Charge of the Goddess

Worship, community, and a few related bits

Wiccans gather for a handfasting ceremony at A...

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A few years ago, I participated in a discussion about Wiccan devotions on an email list that focused on British Traditional Wicca.  One of the elders (I forget which tradition) commented that just about any act can become an act of devotion simply by keeping in mind the Wiccan Mysteries.  It’s something that’s stuck with me, and I tend to see things the same way, understanding that an act of devotion is about perception as much as it’s about carrying out any particular activity or procedure.  And in many ways, I tend to see worship (which I’m not sure I see as entirely distinct from devotion anyway) in much the same way.  After all, I’m constantly reminded of my paragraph from The Charge of the Goddess:

Let My worship be within the heart that rejoices,
for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.
Therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion,
honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

So to me, anything which brings to mind beauty, compassion, reverence, or any of the other virtues mentioned is an act of worship.  Any situation that brings about rejoicing and good cheer is an act of worship in my mind.  And if I meet another person and as a result we share these virtues and that rejoicing with each other, that is a moment where we have joined together in worship.

I’ve been thinking of this due to a conversation a couple of us had over on Matt’s post about “going to church.”  As part of the discussion, I suggested that if a small group of believers ran into each other at the grocery story, that might be considered “church happening.”  Scott disagreed:

I get
what Jared is saying, and I appreciate the intent, but this is not
church. Three people randomly meeting at a grocery store are not
gathered to communal bear witness to the risen Jesus through worship
and service.

Personally, I offered my own disagreement with Scott:

not? Can’t service and worship happen anywhere and spontaneously? Isn’t
the act of just meeting and showing each other Christian love an act of
worship? After all, didn’t Christ himself say that people would know
his followers by how they loved one another? And once those people meet
so “randomly,” what opportunities for service might they find in that
“random” moment? Perhaps they can help the elderly woman who’s trying
to make her way through the crowded produce aisle. Perhaps they can
help the overly-tired mother with three very active children do her

And therein lies my point. I think it’s important to see ANY
gathering of believers — no matter how random or unplanned — as
church simply because ANY such situation can lead to communal service
and worship. And I’ll be so bold as to suggest that not recognizing
each such moment as such simply blinds one to the opportunities such a
moment might actually offer.

Maybe my point is moot.  Maybe Christian theology simply doesn’t support my basic assumptions.  (Christians will have to decide (a) if that’s the case and (b) whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing if it’s not.)  However, from my perspective, it only makes sense.  Where more than one person meet, see the sacredness in each other and in the sharing of lives, loves, joys, and sorrows, worship can and will take place.

And I’d like to think that, as I mentioned, such a mentality does offer a chance for service.  Going through each moment of life with this attitude tends to make one more aware of opportunities to help others and touch lives.  Certainly, they might be small ways to do so.  But who says you have to do something big for it to count?

As I mentioned in the discussion in Matt’s blog, anything less than this mentality suggests to me a compartmentalization of sacred experience and sacred living.  Community — even religious community — doesn’t happen at special events.  It’s heartbeat lives in every moment lived, at least to those of us who take the time to listen for it.

To do otherwise would strike me as, well, irreligious.

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All acts of love and pleasure…?

…all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

Most people who have any experience with Paganism are familiar with this phrase. Most of us have heard this phrase invoked when justifying any sexual orientation or practice — including some practices that make most of us shudder. In fact, some people consider this one of the most troublesome phrases ever encountered in the Wiccan and general Pagan community because of some of the activities and behaviors it has been used to justify.

And while I certainly agree that people who have used this statement to justify some rather reprehensible behaviors, I do not agree that it is right to blame it on the above phrase. Instead, I argue that the fault should be placed where it has belonged all along: with those who have misused such a declaration without truly understanding it.

To truly understand it, we must look at this statement in context. “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” is not a complete quote in and of itself. In fact, it’s not even the full sentence that clause appears in, at least not in the source I’m using. (1) This is a clause in a single sentence taken from “The Charge of the Goddess,” a piece of Wiccan lore generally attributed to Doreen Valiente. The full paragraph (again, according to the way my source divides the Charge into paragraphs, others may vary) reads as follows:

Let My Worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

Notice that the sentence immediately following the well-known phrase begins, “And therefore let there be….” This phrase makes it clear that this following sentence is a continuation of the same train of thought rather than the beginning of a new subject. In essence, it indicates that the virtues listed in this new sentence are directly related to “all acts of love and pleasure.” In effect, the charge is listing characteristics that are essential to “acts of love and pleasure.”

This is the major flaw in many arguments where the “all acts of love and pleasure” clause is used to justify dubious behavior. Those who propose that argument are attempting to define “acts of love and pleasure” by their own superficial, self-serving, and ego-centric definitions. The problem is that the rest of the charge does not permit this, because it clearly says that in order to be an “act of love and pleasure,” a given act or behavior must possess and uphold these virtues. Indeed, any act that does not demonstrate these virtues cannot by definition be an “act of love and pleasure.” So let us take a look at each of these virtues and their implications.

The first virtue called for is beauty. This means that each act — and its results or consequences — must be something that will be found to be pleasing to behold. During and after the act, all people involved with or affected by it must be able to look and take pleasure in it and see the beauty in it. Ugliness — be it physical, emotional, or spiritual — that comes from such an act immediately disqualifies it.

The next virtue is strength. All acts must come from and support a place of strength. The person who draws on “acts of love and pleasure” as a way to cover or make up for their own weakness — or worse, to engender weakness in another — has turned away from love and twisted pleasure into something it was not meant to be. In this sense, strength is antithetical to neediness. A true act of love and pleasure is not done out of neediness, but from a position of mutually empowered desire.

Power, the next virtue, is related to strength. In this sense, I would argue that the “power” here is one of choice. A true “act of love and pleasure” involves choice, and a person performs such acts by their free will rather than through coercion or inner compulsion. In this sense, acts involving more than one person are about equality and mutual choice. The person who emotionally manipulates another into such an act is no better than the person who does the same with physical force.

The next virtue, compassion, is about mitigating one’s own power when dealing with another. This is about taking the other persons needs, desires, rights, and general well-being into account. Acts where one is only concerned about one’s own strength, choice, appreciation of beauty, and any other virtue still falls short of being truly about “love and pleasure.”

The next virtue, honor, is equally important. My own experience has taught me that if we do not keep our integrity intact, then we become nothing. Because of this, it’s all too clear to me that without integrity in our relationships, they too become nothing. The person who cannot maintain their character cannot know love, so how can they commit an act of love?

Humility, like compassion, is about the other person. Whereas compassion reminds us to think of the other person, humility goes one step further and reminds us that it’s also about the act itself. A true act of love and pleasure (2) is about a bond between two souls. Unless we are willing to take our proper place rather than allowing our egos to bloat, there can be no love shared in any real way.

It’s strange to think of mirth as being an important aspect of love and pleasure, it’s nonetheless important. Mirth is about being able to lighten our hearts and enjoy the love we share. Perhaps if we as a society learned the value of mirth in all aspects of our relationships, there wouldn’t be nearly as many tales about “performance anxiety” and similarly distressing problems.

The final virtue, reverence, again brings us outside of ourselves. It’s about respecting oneself, the other person, and the act itself. It’s an understanding that if we are going to truly declare this an “act of love and pleasure,” it is indeed sacred. Reverence teaches us that sacred things should be treated as something special.

Now that we’ve looked at the virtues listed — those which must absolutely exist, lest an act fail to truly be about love and pleasure — it’s time to look at the beginning of the first sentence. Before declaring all acts of love and pleasure to be rituals of the Goddess, the Charge first calls for the Goddess’s praise to be “in the heart that rejoiceth.” This is equally significant. Immediately following this clause and as a lead-in to the well-known clause comes the connecting phrase, “for behold.” This tells us that a rejoicing heart is also significant to all acts of love and pleasure. Indeed, for hearts that rejoice are the end result and direct effect of a true “act of love and pleasure.” As such, one who truly wishes to evaluate whether their proposed “act of love and pleasure” should not only consider how well it reflects, possesses, and upholds the virtues we’ve discussed, but should also consider the resultant state of the hearts of those involved.

While some may find the suggestion that “all acts of love and pleasure” discomforting due to the behavior of some unethical people, I still find it a truly liberating and profound statement. However, it is important to understand what actually qualifies as an “act of love and pleasure” to truly appreciate the concept. Otherwise, one risks profaning the profound through ignorance.


(1) I’ve copied all quotes from The Charge of the Goddess from an online copy hosted on the Starkindler Website.

(2) It’s obvious I’m referring to sexual activity between two people. I’ve tried to be vague about it in most places, as I firmly believe that there are other “acts of love and pleasure” rather than just sex. I also believe that this phrase is also talking about our platonic and familial relationships and how we handle them, too. Most of what I am saying can be applied to such situations equally well. However, most people who abuse the “all acts of love and pleasure” clause are doing so to justify sexual activity. As such, I felt it equally important to cover sexual relationships directly to some degree.