Tag Archives: Magic

Memories: Taking up the Runes

A bindrune for good fortune.
A bindrune for good fortune.

Back in 1998, my first boyfriend, Zech, stayed a few days.  We were driving somewhere and I mentioned in passing that I was thinking about learning to read tarot.  “Why don’t you learn runes instead,” he suggested.  “They’re a lot easier.”  As a result, I went to the bookstore and bought a set of runes with a well known but not very good (at least from a more traditional point of view) book.  I read through the book in a day and started doing readings for myself and friends.  I was amazed at how well I took to them.  Little did I know the key role they’d play in the journey I was about to undertake.

A couple months later, Zech and I broke up and I lost at least one friend in the aftermath.  As a result, my life was thrown into a sense of chaos.  Around Halloween, I decided to do a massive rune reading for myself, one that involved twelve runes.   That reading led me to search new spiritual paths, which brought me to the Pagan paths.

A couple years later, I started reading other books on runes, as i was still fascinating by them.  I began to read sources that were more traditional, which was difficult.  In time, I devoured books by Thorsson, Diana Paxson, Nigel Pennick, Freya Aswynn, Jan Fries, and a few other authors whose names escape me.  In fact, it was my love of runes and the lore surrounding them that caused a trusted mentor to suggest that I should look into following the Norse gods.  That’s how I ended up a devotee of Freyja.

I don’t use runes as much is my personal practice these days, though I still have a grand love for them.  Also, it led me to teach a rune class — and developing a follow-up mini-class — on runes for my local Pagan store.  I’ve also since learned tarot which I like as well.  I’m not sure I agree with Zech that runes are actually easier.  But they still have a special place in my heart and I probably have a bit of a preference for them.

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.”

Paganism, Escapism, and the Nature of Reality

Pentacle

Image by giest via Flickr

Pax wrote an excellent post about the tension between Liberation and Escapism on his blog yesterday.  I highly recommend it.  One of the things that he talks about is the tendency for some Pagans to get so focused on the mystical and magical aspects of the Pagan traditions and tend to remain rooted in reality as well.  Pax shares his own past experiences along those lines:

Even though I could see and perceive and experience the many ways in which the practice of my spirituality and faith as a Witch were leading me to greater personal strength and a deeper understanding of myself and a healthier relationship with the world around me… at the same time I was not dealing with the mundane issues at work in my life, like dissatisfaction with work and living in a bad housing situation and so many of the other planes of stability as Thorn has labeled them in her writing and teaching…. so even as I pursued the Liberation of my self and spirit, I was also using that pursuit as an Escape rather than confronting those things that I was seeking escape from!

I offered my own thoughts on the matter with the following comment:

Excellent points, Pax. I’d add that I strongly believe that an essential part of making sure my spirituality is rooted in reality is making sure that my spirituality manifests itself in my everyday reality. I’m reminded of closing of my own coven’s ritual, where we affirm that we have walked with the Divine and now seek to carry the Divine blessings we have received into the world with us.

To me, that’s a very practical thing. Did the ritual increase my sense of Oneness with everyone and the interconnectedness of all of us? Then I’m going to be looking for opportunities to build and strengthen relationship with others. Did the ritual leave me with a sense of greater perspective and inner strength? Then I’m going to look for those areas in my life that are challenging to me and those obstacles with a fresh eye, looking for how I can overcome or change them.

For those interested, the quote I’m referencing from the ritual my coven uses is as follows:

We have walked with the Stars, Sun, and Moon. Together we now bring Love, Power, and Balance to our Earth Home.

The more I think about Pax’s post and my response, the more I’m reminded of one of my own criticisms of certain streams of Pagan thought.  I feel strongly that far too often, Pagans tend to make too much out of the distinction between the “spiritual,” the “magical,” and the so-called “mundane.”  In reality, there is only one reality, which is multi-faceted, tightly interrelated, and tightly interdependent.  And I think it’s that failure to see that the “spiritual,” “magical,” and “mundane” all inhabit the same space that often leads to the escapism issues Pax is talking about.

Of course, I think a related issue is the tendency of some to seek “spiritual experiences” as an end in themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I love spiritual experiences as much as the next person, and I have my fair share.  I channel a goddess on a semi-regular basis, participate in monthly rituals, and am even attending a seance tonight, where this is a better-than-average chance that I will receive at least one message to give to at least one person.

But the nature of the universe demands that such experience spill over into all of that reality in some way.  Each legitimate spiritual experience by it’s very nature should manifest itself in my life and the lives of others around me in some tangible, practical way.  And if that’s not happening, it behooves me to ask why it’s not happening, and why I’m having or seeking out those experiences if nothing’s ever coming from it.

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.

Notes:
(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.