Daily Archives: March 31, 2011

When Your Altar Catches Fire

When Your Altar Catches Fire

Author: Shining Spider

In the woods of California, there are chaparral plants that have evolved to survive incredible fires. A variety has evolved coats that require the heat of fire or the acid of an animal’s digestive tract to break down. There are lessons that humans learn only from experiencing profound loss. With barriers stripped away, we can see the potential – in each one of us – for growth.

Many cultures have a myth of a bird born of fire. In the most cited – the Phoenix story – the bird is born through the death of the old Phoenix in a nest made of cinnamon. The sacrifice of the elder bird to allow the birth of the new provides a perspective many of us need when letting go of old thoughts, patterns, jobs, or relationships.

Jumping through fire has been used in many pagan rites and has a history running through numerous cultures. Animals were driven through fire to rid them of parasites, and in some circles we now leap over flame to rid ourselves of similarly draining psychic elements.

These are not the images or themes that instantly come to mind when your very physical altar catches on fire. Instead, you are panicking and putting out your candles, sighing with relief when your partner runs over with a box of baking soda. When the smoldering is done and everything is cooled, you take everything off of the altar and figure out what must be thrown away, what is salvageable. You have the chance to reflect on what that fire may mean.

Pragmatically, there was too much on my altar. I am sure that I am not the only one who finds, by years end, a rather busy set up. There were the ‘every day’ altar items such as a statue, a plate of seashells, a cauldron, and a few other small items. To this, though, I had added the family menorah. It is lovely and blue and metal, and it conducts heat so well that it melts candles from the bottom up. On the last night of Hanukkah a candle fell onto the altar cloth and the fire spread, charring the altar, some shelving, and deeming the menorah a fire hazard.

The space was too full and on it were items that did not belong to my faith or me. When it came time to inspect the damage, I removed everything from both the top of the altar and the lower shelves. With everything on the floor and nearby table I saw what I had, what was going unused, what was forgotten, and what I missed. How often do we take a mental inventory of what we have collected over the previous year? What is on our altar out of habit – rather than practice – or perhaps more importantly: sincere need?

When we are weighed down with things we are not excited about, we lose that luster and shine. When an altar begins to take on the appearance of the chores needed to maintain it – dusting, cleaning, organizing, etc. – it is something that is a little easier to avoid. I am by no means a neat freak, but I know that if I walk into a clean kitchen, living room, or bedroom I feel calmer and can keep my mind on the task at hand. My altar is no different. When clean and simple I can offer a prayer, an offering, blessing, or state that moment’s need.

Fire has real, destructive power. While some seeds do require their coating to be cooked away, entire forests can be lost from the lethal combination of fire and human neglect. Unchecked, my altar would have burned, my apartment would be gone and those in my building would have lost far more than an altar cloth.

There are goddesses and gods of fire and destruction. Like a forest fire they clear away brush and melt the barriers we keep around our cores. In Vedic Hindu mythology Kali is both a Goddess borne of the sweat from Durga’s brow and the manifestation of the destruction fire creates. She demands sacrifices of blood and animal. She takes wholly and sincerely. You do not casually invoke her or approach her without respect of the force that she carries.

We cannot keep our altars clean out of fear of fire, no more than we can spend our entire life in fear of other forces of destruction. After all, it is fear and inaction that Kali removes. Instead we must be aware, active, and engaged with the world around us. Sometimes devastation will come without reason. It is not a punishment, but a reminder that all moments are doorways and chances to learn. Do we need what was lost? If so can we re-create it, perhaps better than it was before? Or was what we lost something no longer serving our community, our Earth, or ourselves?

We have to keep our eyes open, not just to what is in front of us, but to that which is also to the side and behind us. I realized my altar was on fire from the kitchen, waiting for latkas to cool. I peeked out to see my beautiful beaded altar cloth melting from the heat of too many candles. By luck I did not lose what was most precious – after home, loved ones, and non magickal material goods – to fire. In fact, the top of the altar is now singed, a reminder of what it and I have survived.

Many of the non-Abrahamic faiths hold a deep respect for fire’s literal and metaphorical power. Pagans, Heathens, Wiccans and others invoke it in magickal space and many of us meditate on its nature. Candles, campfires, letters burned, and other sacrifices are common to rituals.

I am not the first witch who has caught her altar on fire and I will not be the last, but the next time we step towards our magickal working space let us reconsider what aspects of fire, ourselves, and our world we are taking for granted, and what we – not fire – can transform. And please, along with having a fire extinguisher and a smoke detector, keep a box of baking soda on hand.

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Protecting Yourself and Your Home: A Basic Warding Ritual

Protecting Yourself and Your Home: A Basic Warding Ritual

Author: Blondechilde

Have you ever moved into a new home and thought to yourself, “Gosh this place feels so empty and sterile! I wonder how to make it feel more like home quickly?” Worse yet, have you ever thought to yourself, “Eww, this place feels chaotic! It makes me feel like a nervous wreck! How can I cleanse it and make it feel calm again?” Conversely, have you ever walked into someone else’s home and thought, “Wow, their home feels so safe, protected, and relaxing. I wonder how I can make my home feel that way?”

All three questions can be answered with one word: Warding. Mirriam-Webster identifies the etymology of the transitive verb “ward” as Middle English. It means to guard or watch over, or to turn aside (as in the phrase “trying to ward off a cold”) . A warding ritual puts up a kind of permanent circle that protects you and your home from unwanted outside influences. It can also help your home feel safe, inviting, and relaxing.

The following warding ritual is based on one my high priest teaches our coven. I have used it for several years with excellent results.

Determine the extent of your wards

This particular ritual requires walking the perimeter of the space to be warded. If you are a homeowner and you’d like to ward your entire lot, you will need to walk the borders of your property line outside your home. If you are warding an entire house, you may choose to walk the exterior perimeter as opposed to the interior. If you live in a condominium or an apartment like myself, the interior perimeter of your home probably works best.

Walking the interior perimeter of a dwelling can be tricky when dealing with interior walls. You may choose to ward them as well or work around them. I prefer to work around them; I usually walk the perimeter as far as I can, then pause my chanting a bit while I walk around to the other side of the interior wall and find the next available space on the perimeter, then I recommence my casting and continue onward.

In addition to warding your entire home, you may wish to place additional wards on specific rooms within your home. Doing so strengthens the protection. I prefer to ward my home first, and then ward my bedroom as well.

Before performing this ritual, please read the important discussion of ethics on warding shared spaces and rental property that follows later in this article.

Gather your materials

I use salt water to represent earth and water together, and burning incense to represent air and fire together. You may combine elements like this or represent them singly using different materials. I have occasionally represented earth with sand, air with a large feather, fire with a candle, and water with ice. Decide if you want to represent the four elements in pairs or singly, and then choose elemental representations that work best for you.

Clear your space

Much the same way you clear a space before casting a circle, you will want to clear your home of negative and chaotic energies before you put up a protective ward. I prefer to walk every room in my home while ringing a bell loudly. Other sound-based cleansings include the usage of singing bowls and clapping hands.

Cleansing may be also done with smoke or scent, as in smudging with sage smoke or heating essential oils like sandalwood or peppermint. Even something as simple as opening windows to allow in sunshine and fresh air can accomplish the goal of cleansing. The idea is to chase away any negative or disruptive energy so that your home is fresh, clean, and calm before the ritual. Remember, you want your wards to keep the good stuff inside and the bad stuff outside!

Perform your ritual

Choose which elemental representation to use first, and carry it with you while you walk the entire perimeter of the space to be warded in a deosil (clockwise) direction. As you walk, visualize the element (s) forming a great barrier going up all around the space. I visualize the four elemental barriers as mountains, waterfalls, leaping flames, and gusty winds full of leaves and sand. Pass the elements over all portals (windows, doors, fireplaces, gates, etc) twice, for extra strength and protection.

As you pass each of the elements over your home in turn, repeat this chant while you walk:

By (element) , I ward thee:
Guard this space from all ill will
and all those who wish me/us harm.

If you are representing the four elements singly, you will circumambulate your space four times, each time chanting the above incantation for the specific element you carry. If you are representing the elements combined in pairs, you will circumambulate your space twice, alternating your chant back and forth between the two elements you carry.

Maintain your wards

With this ritual, you will create living wards that need regular maintenance to stay strong and effective. In a sense, you will need to feed and care for your ward as you would a pet. When I am healthy and my energy levels are up, I strengthen and repair my wards with my own energy.

I will sit in the center of my home with my eyes closed and my palms up, and I visualize pouring my own energy from my palms into the wards around me. A friend of mine touches the front door to her apartment briefly and pours a little energy into her wards that way every time she leaves the house.

Another way to strengthen your wards without depleting yourself is to draw energy from an outside source and channel it into your wards. I have accomplished this by channeling energy drawn from a candle into my wards, and also from warm sunbeams streaming through my windows. How you choose to maintain your wards is up to you, but you must understand that regular maintenance is important to keep your wards strong and effective.

Ethical considerations

What if you share your home with a roommate? What if you rent your home and you’ll be moving out in another eight months? What about common walls shared with other dwellings? As practitioners, we must remain sensitive to the ethical implications of using magic to protect ourselves.

If your home is a shared space with family, significant others, roommates or other housemates, it is important to discuss your intentions with them before performing a warding ritual. It is entirely possible that housemates may feel uncomfortable with the idea of having the home warded. If this is your situation, it is important to respect their point of view. You may present your reasons why you believe warding the space would be beneficial, but I urge you against coercion or secretly warding the home anyway.

If you are unable to reach compromise with your housemates on warding the entire home, you may wish to ward your private space. I once warded my private bedroom in a college dormitory. If your bedroom is shared, you can also simply ward your own bed. This ritual can be made as large or as small as the practitioner requires.

If your home is rented and you plan to move out in the future, it is important to dispel and dismiss all wards and energies before you leave. The same is true if you are selling your house to new homeowners. Just as you wouldn’t ward a shared space without informed consent from other housemates, you also don’t want to leave behind any magical residue to pollute the environment for unsuspecting new residents. Information on how to dispel your wards follows in the next section.

Regardless of how you choose to bring your wards down, it is ethically imperative that you ground or dismiss any remaining energy residue so as to leave the space clean and fresh for the next residents. To help you accomplish this goal, you may wish to follow dismissal with a cleansing of the space like those mentioned previously in this article.

Common walls with other dwellings frequently occur in rental housing (apartments, duplexes, etc.) as well as in condominiums. It is mainly for this reason that I suggest walking the interior perimeter of apartments and condominiums. Unless you have your neighbors’ permission to perform rituals on their space, it is important that any ritual energies you work with remain contained inside your own dwelling.

In this case, it is important that your ward barriers stop where your walls do. Please take care that your ward barriers do not extrude into the living room or bedroom of your neighbors on the other side of your dining room wall. Similarly, be cautious that your wards do not spill outside your exterior walls into walkways or common areas around your dwelling.

Dismissing your wards

Whether you are leaving a rented dwelling, selling your house, or if you just need a fresh start, there are almost as many ways to tear down and dismiss your wards as there are ways to bring down a ritual circle. You may choose to circumambulate the space in a widdershins (counterclockwise) direction and dismiss the energies as you go. You can also sit stationary in the space and draw all the energies through you and ground them into the earth, leaving nothing behind.

A friend of mine dismisses his wards by element, much as many dismiss quarters after a ritual. Working in a widdershins fashion, he faces each of the cardinal directions in turn. He humbly thanks each element for its protection and dismisses it gratefully.

I prefer to stand somewhere in the center of the warded space and picture the energy barriers around me. I hold my arms straight up and reach with my hands as though I could touch the ceiling of the ward. I visualize ripping a small hole in the ward, and then gripping the edges of the hole, I bring my arms down to my sides, tearing the ward down around me and grounding the energies at my feet. You may also wish to follow dismissal with any of the cleansing rituals mentioned previously.

Make your wards your own

This ritual is fairly simple and straightforward. Try using it as a base upon which to build and create your own personal warding ritual. Remember to determine the extent of your ward ahead of time, and always consider the ethics of your particular situation. When gathering your materials, do not be afraid to use your favorite elemental representations, even if they are different from examples listed here.

Clearing your space can be as simple as smudging with sage, or as complex as performing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, it’s up to you to decide which cleansing works best for you.

The incantation must serve its intended purpose, but it need not be as bare and simple as the one suggested here. Try expounding upon it, adding to it, making it rhyme, singing it, and even dancing if you wish.

Finally, it is imperative that your wards receive proper maintenance. I’ve offered examples of different ways to make certain your wards have adequate energy to perform their intended task. You may expound upon these examples in any manner that you find works well. The most important points of warding are covered here. How exactly you choose to carry them out and make them your own are entirely up to you.



Footnotes:
I am a member of the coven Goethe’s Garden, which has a listing here at WitchVox. My High Priest has used this ritual for many years, and he passed it on to me during my year-and-a-day dedication. I share it with you with his permission.

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Who is Hecate? Insight into the Goddess of the Witches

Who is Hecate? Insight into the Goddess of the Witches

Author: Helena Domenic

Who is it that we think of when we think of the Goddess Hecate? Is she the Goddesses to whom the three Wyrd sisters in MacBeth cry to? Is she a fearsome creature who aids in cursing as in Medea? From Appolonius Rhodius we get this description:

“…. Hearing from the utmost depths, the dread Goddess approached … all entwined with fearsome serpents and leaves of oak, amidst a shimmering blaze of torchlight, while all around her chthonic hounds bayed shrilly, all the meadows trembled at her footfall and the nymphs of the marshland and river cried aloud.”

A review of all the literature surrounding Hecate yields very conflicting images of Hecate. Early sources from as early as the seventh century BCE present a very different Hecate then the one described by Appolonius Rhodius. In Pre-Classical Greece, she was portrayed as a young woman in a long robe holding burning torches. Later, we find the triple formed statues – three female figures back to back. These statues were found at temple entryways and crossroads – facing three different ways so she could see in all directions.

Evidence from nearly every century can be found that presents a much gentler image of Hecate – a beneficent Deity who guarded gateways, acted as Divine Attendant to Persephone, one who presided over birth and death as well as personal interaction between humans and deities. In the Chaldean Oracles, Hecate is viewed as being synonymous with Soul and considered the Savior of humanity as she acted as intermediary between humanity and the Divine in the crossover point between life and death.

The earliest references to Hecate can be found in Hesiod’s Theogony>/I> where she shares special honors with Zeus and in Homer’s Hymn to Demeter where she hears Persephone’s abduction from her cave and assists Demeter and Persephone both.

Somehow through time, Hecate has received a very unfair bad rap. One thing that can be said for Greek cosmology is that if a Deity presided over a particular area – say birth and death – then they presided over all aspects – positive and negative – of that area. If a Goddess could heal, then it followed that she could also curse. All of the attributes associated with Hecate evolved through time from the Pre-Classical era into the late Classical era, and now she has been adopted once again by modern Neo-Pagans.

One theory of Hecate’s origin places her in Karia – actually in the hinterlands of Asia Minor and the homelands of Hesiod’s family. One theory of Hecate’s preeminence alongside Zeus in the Theogony is that Hesiod created her importance and prominence for personal reasons. (Although from the research I’ve done, I disagree with this) . Hesiod actually only mentions Hecate once – perhaps there may have been no special attachment to Her, and he only placed her in the Theogony to acknowledge his own origins.

The Theogony was not written until the 8th century BCE – knowledge and worship of Hecate was not prevalent until the 6th century BCE. Looking closely at all the evidence – both literary and archeological – presents us with a very complex Goddess of incredible depth.

As I’ve noted, there is a great deal of debate over Hecate’s true nature, from her nation of origin to her genealogy. In Hesiod’s Theogony, she is, among other things, the daughter of the Titans Asteria and Perses; she is honored by Zeus above all others; is invoked at every sacrifice; and bears the title of “Kourotrophos” – nurse to all living beings. This version of Hecate does not bear great resemblance to later versions of her – and the absence of better known traits such as torch bearing and guardianship of the crossroads – have led some scholars to believe Hesiod fabricated the whole thing for his own ends (i.e., bringing favor and honor to his hometown Karian Goddess) . Bacchylides has her as daughter of Asteria and Zeus, Euripides says she is a daughter of Leto, and Thessalian legend has it she is the daughter of Admetus and a mortal woman.

In the Chaldean oracles, Hecate has many interesting attributes that are only now being fully explored by Classical Scholars. According to Sarah Iles Johnston, “She ensouled the Cosmos and the individual men within it, forming the connective boundary between man and god as could lead eventually to the individual soul’s release. She was celestial and potentially beneficent, rather than chthonic and threatening.”

What makes Hecate so interesting are these changing attributions – whether in reference to her origins or her magickal aspects – she changed as different regions and groups adopted her worship. No Greek clan or tribe ever claimed descent from Hecate, which makes good the case she originated outside of Greece.

As mentioned before, it is likely Hecate came from Karia in southwest Asia Minor, and she was incorporated into Greek mythology around the 6th century BCE. Hecate has also been connected with the Egyptian frog goddess Heqit. In pre-dynastic Egypt, the matriarch and wise woman of the tribe was called the “Heq” which echoes the attribution of Hecate to childbirth later on. An Asian name which may have been confused with Hecate is Hekabe – the wife of King Priam of Troy.

Aristophanes and Euripides have both connected her with Hecate. Perhaps more likely is a connection to a Goddess named Hepat. Hepat was a major Goddess of the Hurrians, a Bronze Age people of eastern Asia Minor who would have had contact with the Karians.

Hecate’s name also has several possible meanings. Among them ‘She who works her will’ is most commonly accepted, but also the ‘far off one’ or ‘far darting one’ are also suggested. She has had a variety of titles attached to her name which seem to extend its meaning:

Antaia: to whom one makes supplication.

Propylaia: Guardian of Gateways – Aischylos writes of ‘Lady Hecate, the one before the doors.’ Aristophanes refers to “just as a Hekataion is everywhere before doors.”

In this form, the boundary serves three purposes: 1) to establish a boundary and to protect inside from outside; 2) helping travelers setting out or returning; and 3) to watch over the actual transition that the entrance entails.

Apotropaios: Averter of Evil

Kleidouchos: Key holder (Is she the Key Master? Oops, sorry for the tacky Ghost Busters reference) .

Kourotrophos: Nurse, possibly referring to a nurse of child rearing, not necessarily involved in childbirth. Many Goddesses who bore this title were specifically associated with a city. Hecate is the oldest known Kourotrophos, which is where the association ‘Nurse of all living things’ comes in. There is also a possible connection with this title to marriage, as Hecate presided over transitions, and marriage most definitely is a transition.

Goddess of Roads: protector of travelers at crossroads where her statues were erected.
Goddess of Transitions: Hecate helps people cross difficult boundaries of all sorts, where the significance or risk lies in the crossing.

In the Theogony, she is the intermediary link between the mortal and immortal world during sacrifices. Hecate is present at Persephone’s abduction and leads her back from the Underworld. She is also associated with young women who fail to make the transition to womanhood.

Hecate Propolos: Guide and companion. In the Hymn to Demeter, Hecate becomes Persephone’s Guide. She appears in this role on a number of artworks and vases, usually bearing torches. She may also have served an initiatory role in coming of age rituals for women.

Hecate Phosphoros: Light Bringer, Torch Bearer.

Hecate as Moon Goddess: She was sometimes paired with Helios, a Sun God, and her torches show the way at night.

Hecate Soteira: Hecate as Savior of both the Cosmos and the individual souls within it. This will be examined in more detail a little later.

Another derivation of Hecate’s name, “Most Shining One” can be seen in depictions of her as a young beautiful Goddess who carries torches and wears a head dress of stars. She has been associated with both Helios and Apollo – and Apollo sometimes bears the epithet Apollo Hekatos.

Although the Olympians adopted Hecate after defeating the Titans, she never lived among them. They dwelt in Olympus. She, on the other hand, was considered a chthonic deity – that is, of the earth. In the Theogony, Zeus gives her dominion over Heaven, Earth, and Sea, and with Zeus, she had the ability to grant or withhold gifts to humanity. Interestingly, in the Demeter/Persephone myth cycle, Hecate is always the Maiden, Persephone the Wife or Mother, and Demeter the Crone. This is just one example of Hecate’s function as a Triple Goddess. There is evidence that point to her being honored in the Rites of Eleusis – possibly in her aspect as Guide or Nurse.

Hecate’s best-known role in Greek myth is in Homer’s Hymn to Demeter. After Persephone is abducted by Hades, Hecate reveals the truth to Demeter, and together they try to rescue Persephone. Home says of Hecate, “Hecate, with the bright headband, who heard from her cave.” Once Persephone’s fate is determined, it is Hecate who acts as her guide between the worlds. This is very much a different image from the one that later developed.

In the fifth century BCE, we begin to see a new, frightening side to Hecate. She is associated with restless, violent spirits, with sacrifices of dogs and offerings of food left at the Crossroads at the Full Moon. Now she is Hecate Chthonia. Chthonic means “of the Earth” as opposed to the Olympian Gods who lived on Mount Olympus. In this aspect, we see the use of low altars on which offerings are made into the earth as opposed to the air; also the sacrifice of whole animals. Chthonic deities would have been associated with fertility, childbirth, crops, fate and death.

Another later aspect is Hecate Enodia, Hecate at the Crossroads. How did Hecate begin to be associated with the darker aspects? It is possible that there so many images of young, maidenly Goddesses that some artists felt compelled to depict her in a different way – hence the three Hecates back to back, which we see in the Hekataion statues. It was also not unusual for Greek Gods and Goddesses to have many inconsistent qualities.

The stories of Medea may have propagated a negative image of Hecate. In Euripides’ version of the tale, Medea was a priestess of Hecate – she had helped Jason get the Golden Fleece and was subsequently dumped for someone younger. She kills their children in revenge. A misogynistic concept around witches and women was built up around these stories, and around Hecate.

Another story associated with Hecate is that of Iphigenia – a young woman sacrificed by her step-father, Agamemnon at the outset of the Trojan War. Young women who died before their time were associated with Hecate, and Iphigenia is said to have been transformed into Hecate by Artemis. Hecate governs the souls of these young women who die before their time.

An epitaph from the Roman era reads, “I lie here, the Goddess Hekate, as you see. Formerly I was mortal; now I am immortal and ageless. Julia, daughter of Nikias, a great hearted man.” Perhaps because of her association with dead young women, Hecate became associated with the restless, angry dead.

As an aside, Greek mythology can be confusing in that deities can be both Chthonic and Olympian. Hecate is actually both, as are Hermes, Demeter, Zeus, and Gaia. She hears Persephone’s abduction from her cave, after all.

In later Classical times, Hecate became associated with a practice known as curse tablets. These were lead tablets inscribed with curses, which were to be taken by the dead souls to deities such as Hecate and Hermes. Most of these tablets are associated with Hermes, but Hecate is also called upon by some of them. Interestingly, her name never appears alone on these tablets – it is always in association with Hermes.

The rise of thought involving Hecate as a Savior figure came during a time when philosophy and religion were finding more common ground than previously, and Neo-Platonists became involved in discussions of theurgy, philosophy and magic. In her identification of the Platonic Cosmic Soul, some scholars have interpreted Her presence in the Chaldean Oracles as an omnipotent Goddess.

Hecate as Cosmic Soul comprised what the Platonic philosophers called the “Sensible World” – the world of the Gods and the Cosmos – and the “Intelligible World” – the world of humanity, and as such was able to cross both boundaries at will. It was thought that the Cosmic Soul generated the physical Cosmos. (Although stated explicitly in any literature I have come across, this aspect of Hecate does suggest a Creatrix of some sort at the very least) . This ability of Hecate to cross easily between the world of the Gods and the world of humanity does connect well to her earlier association with crossroads.

Platonic thought placed the Moon at the crossroads of life and death – that is, when humans died, they were thought to enter the Moon as an intermediary place before going on to their ultimate destination – either re-birth or joining with the godhead. Chaldean thought placed Hecate as being on or in the Moon as part of that intermediary process – she was called the Mistress of the Moon. Again, in this particular connection between Hecate and the Moon, we see her association as mediary between humanity and divinity. Plato saw the Moon as Hecate’s “lot” – that is – the place in the Universe most suited to her. The Moon’s role in Platonic thought was to receive and nurture and then send forth souls.

Hecate was also connected to the race known as “Daemones” – not demons as we know them today, but a golden race somewhere between the Divine and humanity that watched over humans. Traditionally, daemons were understood to be the souls of humans who had not had proper burials, and as such, wandered between the worlds – an attribute they shared with Hecate. These souls were assigned the task of watching over the recently dead and guiding them to their proper resting places. These souls, along with Hecate, could either aid the ascent, or force the descent of the recently departed.

Another interesting component to Hecate’s worship during this time was the use of the “Hecate top, ” or iynx wheel. This instrument was used in magic to aid the working at hand. A Hecate top was actually more like a bullroarer, and the sound it made while being operated was considered crucial to the success of the operation.

Iynges might also be found hanging from the ceiling around a king’s throne to symbolize man’s separation and subordination to the gods, as well as the division of the universe into human and divine portions. The revolutions of the iynges represent the turnings of Hecate herself – the whirling and sounds of an iynx serve to symbolize and strengthen the sympathetic magic invoked by the theurgist.

Hecate was involved in three major mysteries: at Eleusis, Samothrace, and Aiginia. By their nature, little has been revealed of what went on in the mysteries, but given the role in the story of Demeter and Persephone, Hecate may have been a guide to Initiates. At Eleusis, thick nails were driven into the ground or altar, piercing through a piece of parchment rolled into a flattened tub, on which was written the name of someone to be cursed – most commonly politicians. Hecate was to be invoked as the parchment was ritually burnt. Hecate had a great deal more associated with her then curses, however. There were a variety of animals that were sacred to her.

The animal most commonly associated with Hecate was the dog. In the later Hellenistic and Roman works, Hecate’s approach is heralded by the barking of dogs. Dogs have a bad reputation in Greek mythology – they were considered polluted and impure, symbols of shameless behavior. There may have been an old belief that souls of the unburied dead could appear as dogs. Dogs were sacrificed to Hecate in purification rituals. A female dog would be sacrificed to aid in childbirth, in the belief that dogs gave birth with ease. The image of these sacrificed dogs may explain the later picture of ghostly dogs accompanying Hecate.

The image of dog as guardian – a much more positive association – echoes Hecate’s role as guardian. Plutarch wrote that dogs as well as Hecate were credited with excellent night vision. Aischylos and Plutarch both wrote about dogs barking to frighten intruders, but how they were loving and loyal to those they protected.

There were also herbs attributed to Hecate. Aconite (also known as Hecateis, Monkshood, or Wolfsbane) was a highly poisonous plant that was sacred to Hecate. According to myth, the plant sprang up where drops of saliva from Cerberos fell to earth when Hercules dragged the dog beast from the Underworld.

Hecate appears as a daughter of Zeus and Hera in later myths. Hecate was sent to the Underworld after incurring the wrath of Hera for stealing a pot of rouge for Europa, one of Zeus’ lovers. Hecate fled to earth and hid in the house of a woman who had just given birth. In late Classical Greece, childbirth was impure, so Cabiri plunged Hecate into the Underworld River Acheron to cleanse her. From then on, Hecate remained in the Underworld. There may be connections between the red rouge in this myth and the red henna used by worshippers to stain their hands and feet.

In the Aeneid, Aeneas travels to the Underworld with the Sibyl of Cumae. It was Hecate who originally took Sibyl there and showed her all the punishments of Tartarus. Hecate gave Sibyl the power to control the Avernus Wood, the passageway to the entrance of the Underworld. To allow passage for Aeneas, Sibyl sacrificed four black bullocks to Hecate, who then allowed Sibyl and Aeneas passage through the entrance and across the Styx.

In the fourth book of the Aeneid, Hecate is invoked by Dido. Aeneas had left her heart broken, so she called upon Hecate to curse the Trojans before she flung herself on her dagger. Her curse was effective; not only did the Trojans wander around for many years, when they finally reached Rome, Aeneas was killed in the fighting.

Athenians were especially respectful towards Hecate and she was often invoked in midnight rituals. Her worshippers gathered at crossroads at the New Moon to share Hecate suppers and then placed leftovers outdoors as offerings. Honey, black female lambs and dogs were sacrificed to her.

The yew, cypress, hazel, black poplar and willow are all sacred to Hecate. The leaves of the black poplar are dark on one side, and light on the other, symbolizing the boundary between the worlds. The yew has long been associated with the Underworld. It is the longest living creature in Europe and naturally resurrects itself – as the central trunk dies, a new tree grows within the rotting core.

As can be seen from ancient writings and modern scholarship, Hecate is a many-faceted Goddess indeed. She is much more than the dark, dreaded “Goddess of the Witches” that we see in some television accounts of Wicca, and indeed, she may be older than the Greco-Roman origins she is usually attributed with.

However modern media may choose to paint Her, She is indeed a true “Goddess of the Witches”, a complex and interesting Goddess with many stories and rituals yet to be told and created.

 


Footnotes:
SOURCES:
Johnston, S. I. (1990) . Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature. Atlanta: GA: Scholars Press.

Von Rudolf, R. (1999) . Hekate: In Ancient Greek Religion. Victoria, B.C: Horned Owl Publishing.
 

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Breaking Ground With Other Faiths

Breaking Ground With Other Faiths

Author: Draconis Wierinsan Kinthasil

I was working on my garden the other day, we had turned the soil over last week and I saw the small lumps of dirt that the Rota tiller had left behind. It reminded me of what we must do as Pagans.

Out in the larger world are folks who have different beliefs. Sometimes they think that we are bad people or do bad things because of what they think we belief. This is what I call breaking ground; they need to know that they may be wrong on a number of points. I’m not saying you should preach at them but explain to them that you think differently. The better folks (like a Catholic Friend of mine who was Wiccan for a while) will listen to your thoughts on your beliefs with an open mind.

Other times they might pretend to be listening so that they can jump down your throat with the whole “You will burn in Hell Witch!” bit. Thank the Gods I haven’t met these sort (yet) . And the rest will be the kind who will ask the stupid “If you’re a Witch where is your black hat and broom and why are you out when it isn’t Halloween?”

The thing is some of the time most folks just don’t give a horse’s rump how you believe. If you aren’t a Christian you must be converted. I saw the article on Witchvox about most folks not wanting to vote for a person who is Pagan for President. Well la de da! This is a free country (or at least is supposed to be!) and I’m Pagan and I think that it is time for a change.

I will run for President in 2024, won’t that make headlines! “Disabled Pagan for President” I can hear the churches ranting now.

Well I’m sorry that this country is so messed up but maybe if we would stop building a bridge to nowhere and sending food and clothes to foreign countries when we can’t even feed our own people maybe we could improve our country. Sorry a little off topic but look at it this way. If every Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist and everybody else would just give five bucks then think what we would have.

That’s the point of this article, Pagans: When you hear the “Devil Worshipper” crap. Be the bigger man! Walk away.

Christians remember the Golden rule I quote “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” King James Version Holy Bible. To Muslims remember always to keep an open mind and that goes for the rest of you too! United shall we stand, divided we fall, Alone will we break, together we are unbreakable.

If we spent half the time we spend on fighting over whose way is better on loving our neighbor and practicing what we preach, then think how much better off we would be. If we would look for the things that tie us together instead of tearing each other apart we could see that we are more alike then we think.

My vision for all faiths is that one day you will see a father take his kids outside to cast a circle at the White house and as folks go by they say “Good Morning, Mr. President” as he communes with his Gods. Then he stands up and sweeps his hair out of his eyes, pats the pentacle pinned to his lapel and goes to work in the Oval Office. As he greets people he will say “Blessed Be Brother/Sister” as he goes about his day for all Americans are his family.

Then at the end of the day he goes to a ritual with his son who is a mirror image of his father and teaches him the old ways. And on Monday nights they go to Boy scouts and a Pagan father stands proud as his son earns his religious emblem along with everybody else and the boys ask the Pagan scout What the silver pentacle on the red, white, and blue ribbon means and the Pagan scout smiles and explains the meaning of his emblem, that is so much simpler and for that reason so much more meaningful.

And when he tucks his son in that night he says “Sleep well my son, may Sabdh cradle you in her arms this night and Wierin guard you as you sleep” and the boy smiles and replies “Goddess bless, Daddy.”

The President smiles and says “Goddess Bless son sleep well” and turns on the crescent moon nightlight and goes to bed and he and his wife curl up to sleep. As he drifts off his last words are “Now as I lay down to sleep I pray the Gods my soul to keep and should I pass before I wake To Summerland my soul shall take” and he smiles and drops off.

I would sure like to see the meanness and hatred that people throw at each other become a thing of the past and that religious labels like Pagan and Christian become terms of respect and are not spoken like a curse.

I know this may never come to pass in my lifetime but if we young people of all faiths don’t work to find some common ground then I predict a time not so far away when this, the greatest country in the world becomes a theocracy and that the government dispenses with the bit about “no law establishing religion or preventing the free exercise of” and makes on faith supreme to the exclusion of all others.

Please in The Stag-Lord’s name join me in working against this terrible vision! Let us not return to The Burning Times! Let us as Americans — not as Pagans or Christians but as Americans, as members of the human race — work together. Think of what we can do if we learn from each other and treat each other with respect.

In this regard let go of those prejudices that you have. Stop hating someone because they are different or because of their skin color! We are all the children of the Gods. We are not different races! We are all of us members of the human race. The only difference is that in Their wisdom the Gods made us different. For if we were all the same we would all think, feel and believe the same way.

You wouldn’t need to ask an opinion because you would already know the answer. Fat chance of that ever happening.

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To Coven or not to Coven- On the Internet?

To Coven or not to Coven- On the Internet?

Author: Stacy Marie
Last year whilst putting all of my cat tails and broom sticks in a row (so to speak) for my brand new shiny coven; my husband made the comment that he felt traditional covens were a thing of the past.

“A thing of the past? We’re just getting started.” I responded.

We went on to discuss how, he feels, that more and more people are choosing to work solitary and opting out of having to deal with the politics that often come with joining a coven.
“Well, gee just take the North wind gale out of my sail then, why don’t ya.”

Here I have invested money and countless hours of my time into Seminary school, polishing up my family tradition and formatting everything into a structured learning program for a full blown teaching coven and whamo my other half doesn’t think it will get off the ground. Now, I am not the type of person to just give up on my visions and dreams, but I have lived with my hubby for 10 years and I didn’t start calling him “Oracle” for not. So, I meditated and consulted my guides, the runes and researched.

I contemplated the reasons why I, myself have not joined a coven. By the time I had any incline to do group work I had already been a practicing Witch for many years. I had studied Asatru and Feri when my life took on a distinctively Wiccan path. I was well set in my ways. I did search for groups and covens, but I found that experience, or rather the lack of experience among group leaders was a rather common hurdle that I just could not get my proverbial broom over.

The people in my life were all solitary: my Dad, my step Mother, her aunt, my husband, our children, etc. I decided perhaps starting a family coven would be the way to go, and that went well for a while, then my Dad and Step Mom moved away. So, I set out to obtain the magickal piece of paper our society so dearly clings to. I wanted to be sure that I had credentials that said to the world, “Psst, hey this Lady took the time to do some actual work for the title Priestess.”

Rather than buy one instantaneously online or what not. As I and my family interacted more within the Pagan and Wiccan community I often was faced with the same question by both my husband and my son; Why did it seem like so many of the people we were meeting were, well, a little heavy on the acorns… in other words nutty?

Ahhh, yes they said it, I repeated it and you know you have thought about it on occasion too. So lets think about the situation that is unfolding here: covens and groups with inexperienced leadership, more people opting for solitary work, people who are a little loopy. Could it possibly be that magick in its many forms is a tad bit dangerous?

No, you don’t say.

The state of the coven culminates for me here; inexperience leads down two paths, one is non interest, i.e. those who have the experience to recognize inexperience when they see it choose to be solitary and path number two taken by those who do not know any better can lead to the possibility of real psychological damage in a blind leading the blind type of scenario. The reality is that Wicca is the fastest growing religion in America today, its numbers double every few months (so certain statistics say) . There simply are not enough quality teaching covens available to all those who would seek them.

It is a daunting task for a beginner to try to discern the quality from the crap both in covens and books. If you are lucky enough to have a quality coven in your area, you still have to mesh well with the other members and the types of energy they raise. What about those who live in the country? What if you have kids? Now you need a family friendly coven. Let me tell you, if you thought finding a coven was difficult, try finding one that accommodates young aspiring witchletts. That is a task that redefines difficult.

Oh, by the gods it is a dilemma, indeed. I think my husband may be on to something, perhaps. What is a girl that has been given a vision to do?

Are online teaching covens a viable option? I researched and meditated. I concluded that online covens are not better than being able to physically coven with others, but they are out there and they do provide a sense of fellowship and community, as do social networks such as Paganspace and Wiccan Together.

A quality online teaching coven or virtual coven, which is not easier to find than a physical coven when trying to hold true to the definition of quality but does, when found, offer a valuable service to those new to the craft that a simple social network does not. It can offer experience to those who would otherwise not have it available. It can offer structure to a path that may fall by the wayside because of frustration created by the mass amount of misinformation, repeated information, plain poorly researched material found in so many books and websites or by the lack of trustworthy peer support for ones work. Which brings me to the experienced witch and what such a coven has to offer them. Trustworthy peer support of ones works.

I can hear it now, screams and spats of how “I don’t need anyone else’s approval or validation for the work I do.” Indeed nor do I. There is nothing more exhilarating however to the spirit then to have the ability to share and compare notes on journey work and just perhaps find similarities that quite possibly lead to epiphanies for both parties involved. This sort of experience is one that is few and far between in solitary work and can lead one to stagnation along the way if not had to some degree, in my opinion.

I decided to heed the words of my Oracle, not by abandoning my vision, but expanding it.
Along with my physical coven, I created an online coven. In order to accomplish this successfully I had to research these types of covens. I have scoured the Internet tirelessly, taking notes the whole way. At the end of my research I was left with a few quality resources available to anyone with a computer.

It is my intent to share this research, so that others may benefit from it. What follows are my findings and in no way do I claim that I had the ability nor opportunity to view every such coven in existence, I did view quite a lot.

As a practitioner of the craft for over 19 years I used my personal experience to make a list of what I feel are the best of the covens I viewed. They do not appear in any specific order and I encourage anyone interested in such a coven to do additional research on their own.

Jaguar Moon Cyber Coven- http://www.jaguarmoon.org/
Run by Lisa Mc Sherry (Lady Maat) . Formed in 2000 from Shadow Moon Cyber coven and with Southern Cross Coven. Exists as an entirely virtual coven to teach Wicca in a non-threatening manner. Annual classes that start in July and end in June. Fee $60 annual (may vary year to year) . I could not view what an accepted applicant could, as one must apply for membership to gain access to entire site. However, the outline of the Lesson plan is available to the public and very comprehensive. Jaguar Moon Cyber Coven does have a traditional degree system.

Coven of the Far Flung Net- http://www.cuew.org/cffn/
This site is owned and run by Church of Universal Eclectic Wicca, LLC.
Provides free Wiccan education through a series of online lessons. Universal Eclectic Wiccan Tradition. Public collection of information about various Pagan and Wiccan topics. One must apply for membership. This is a very organized site.

Temple Zenith- http://www.templezenith.com
Physically located in Largo/Seminole, FL. A Wiccan/Pagan coven both physical and online where that the Goddess and God are equal in their reflection of cosmic BEING. Core teaching based on the union of the three selves and magick being the art of understanding the interplay between the manifestations of divine forces in Nature. Decent public information on Wicca, magick and Paganism. Traditional Degree format. Structured learning program set up on a social networking platform. Free.

The Holy Temple of Witchcraft – http://www.holytempleofwitchcraft.com
Founded on August 8, 2005 in Wooster, OH. Online coven for witchcraft. Very clear in their expectations of a student. Degree Structure. Small $10 fee. This site does not contain public information on witchcraft.

Sacred Circles Coven- http://sacredcirclescoven.com/
Founded on October 15, 2001. Physical coven located in Puerto Rico. This is a Grove of the Old Religion, not Wicca. A wealth of Pagan related public info including mythology, Book reviews, herbs, dream info, cat magick, moon magick and also a growing social network. Free.

The Athame’s Edge http://athamesedge.com/index.php?pg=1
Very organized and clear in their purpose and goals. A Progressive Wiccan Coven. Must apply for membership to gain access to entire site. No public info on Wicca or Paganism other than a brief “What is Wicca?” primer.

The Temple of the Moon’s Rising http://www.freewebs.com/emrysthewitch/index.htm
Owned and run by Emrys, a young Wiccan Priest with an obvious old soul. Public info on Eclectic Wicca is available on this site.

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“In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust”

“In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust”

Author: Rebecca Ivy MoonPanther
Such powerful and inspiring words, spoken by some of the most powerful and inspirational Wiccan people. What does this phrase mean? And, as all smart-ass people will say (like me, teeheehee) WAT U MEAN BY PERFECT??

Just finished studying, so here’s my take on it.

We as Wiccan men and women are, for the most part, law-abiding citizens, correct? We may occasionally run that red when were late for work, not necessarily speak up when that cashier gives you five extra bucks back, but we don’t draw the line. We abide by state and federal laws, so religious laws should be no different.

Now, I am not saying that every Wiccan uses the Wiccan Rede. Some are followers of the older faith and do not choose to abide by the new rules. Just as we need to accept all faiths, we need to accept that those who may not use that Rede are not evil or weird or freaks. Just different, like you and me.

Back to what I was saying. “In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust” has been debated a lot. My take on it is that true, there is no such thing as a literal “perfect”, except when speaking of the Divine. They are the only perfection. And that’s why perfection is unattainable.

We are all made perfectly, but even so, it is at our core, simply because we come from the Gods. However, at the same time, we are all imperfect as well. That is simply because the physical plane has to be imperfect. In fact, to have symmetry of our limbs, eyes, even (as women) our bosoms are unsymmetrical. Every girl can tell you which one is bigger (LOL) . I wouldn’t exactly recommend asking every one though. So, we come from utter perfection, but in order to be on this plane, we must be imperfect.

But as we delve deeper and deeper into this faith, seeking out the answers of the universe, we try to somehow, reach or see one tiny aspect of divinity.

We already know of it, but no one truly sees it. The true aspect of Divinity is Love. It seemed so simple to me, at first, but after reading this article on The Witches Voice, it became clear that it was far from it. As SilverEagle wrote: “There is a lot of resistance to this practice for most of us. We have within us a pseudo self that treasures the illusion. It is important for us to question this self.”

We love Lady Luna and Helios because we trust them to always have our best interest in mind. We all have gone through many tests just by surviving childbirth, and have endured more since. And we will not be done until we cross to the other side of that black veil. Once we do, we know that the Goddess has shown us enough for this life, and it is time to start over. She loves us enough to put us through these trials, and Helios gives us the light and warmth that we need to see that we always have the strength to persevere. And we love her because we maintain her strength in all we do.

Every person is of the Goddess, and though you may not like the person for as far as you can throw him or her, or you may not even know him or her, but you love them. This because inside, they are of the Goddess.

Now, I have covered perfect, love……ah! Trust. Shall we?

Trust is a very touchy thing for me. It has always been hard for me. Because of my tests, I have learned, like most others, that every person is not worth trusting, even if they look, act, or even may seem like the best person. They have gone through almost everything I have! So? What in this wide world and beyond makes you think that someone will not take your kindness and run with it for miles and onward? Perfect trust is not naive. Perfect trust and perfect love are able to check each other. If I don’t trust them, I cannot love them, and vice versa. And just because a person says that they believe in this statement, or are even Wiccan or Pagan, that does not necessarily mean that they deserve your trust, or mean what they say.

Perfect trust demands intelligence, and especially with our limited trust of others in this day and age. Anyone can stab you in the back, and if they are truly of merit, then they won’t mind if you question their means. This is your life, your body, your mind, and your spirit. Let no one, NO ONE, be they man, beast, deity, inanimate or alive, take away your right to do what is right and righteous for you.

Be selfish! That is your right! And yes, included in this is the event of you taking away your own voice. Trust and love yourself. We all know that Self-confidence and Self-love ride in the same boat. Confidence is trust! So have the confidence in your stride and dance among the unenlightened!

Now, because each aspect of this phrase has been questioned, how do we combine the three to make this nifty Wiccan phrase? You love as the Gods do and trust in the Gods and Fate itself. By agreeing to enter the circle, you are vulnerable, but because you are of the Gods, and are able to love perfectly, and have perfect faith in the universe and your own will and intentions you may choose to surrender any psychological barriers and enter, or say, I am not ready to give up my distrust and stand. You have the choice to make that decision. You are not being forced to enter, so work to attain that light inside of you and do no enter until you are ready to surrender all your troubles to the Divine. I know I have a long way to go, so do not feel alone.

So, what have we learned?

I have learned that carpal tunnel is no excuse to not type hahaha.

Anyway, summary: Perfect is simply, of the divine. Because we are of the Gods, we have the gift of Love, as well as Free Will– to give trust and question our surroundings. So, to invoke perfect love and perfect trust is to say, you and I are of the Gods, and we both are going to follow their will and serve them to the best of our ability because that is why we are here. That is why She dances so freely. That is why I am writing this explanation.

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Who Is A Real Witch Anyway?

Who Is A Real Witch Anyway?

Author: Amergin Aradia
It seems that the debate about who is and who is not a “real Witch” is coming to a head. Is this sect real as opposed to that sect? Are those in covens real Witches as opposed to solitaries’. And on and on it goes. It’s beginning to sound like the fight between factions of the Christian religion or between organized religions as a whole. That’s probably the way they began too.

This silly useless debate is pulling our community apart as well. The truth is, are any of us real Witches. And how do you define a real Witch? By whose standards and rules?

As an illustration of my point I’ll tell you my story. I have always known that I was a Witch, even before I really knew what that was. When I was very young (grade school) I had certain abilities and interests that other kids didn’t. I practiced raising energy, practiced ESP (as it was called then) , I astral projected, and I cast spells. I was drawn to the night, the moon and stars, and I identified with all things “magical.”

I wasn’t trained by anyone because there was no one to train me. I had to figure it out for myself and that was in the 1950’s so you know there were very few references to rely on even if I knew where to look. As I grew up I did what everyone else did then, got a job and tried to live what was considered a “normal” life, as unsatisfying as that was.

I maintained my interests and practices over the years as best I could, if only peripherally. There may have been one or two occult bookstores in the area but you really had to search them out and I only managed to get to one every so often and then only to browse because I didn’t know what I was looking for. You didn’t just walk up to someone and tell him or her you were a Witch and wanted to join a coven. And people didn’t come out of the woodwork to invite you to join one, even if you knew where to look.

So I dabbled, training myself the best way I could using instinct as my guide. At the time I would have loved to have found someone to train me and I would have loved to have found a coven to join so that I wouldn’t feel so alone. But they didn’t exactly advertise. And there was no Internet in those days to bring us all together.

So unless you were lucky, you were on your own. Like it or not.

Now that we have all these books, magazines, and web sites to fill in the gaps I find that my instincts did very well by me. Everything that I taught myself way back then is now being touted as the way to do it by the “experts.” I have since collected an entire library of books hoping to find information that would help me advance my practice but with the exception of a few interesting bits that I’ve added here and there, I have been disappointed.

I have also attended classes, open groves, and ceremonies, and while the people that I met were very nice it just didn’t feel right for me. I’ve also become very disillusioned with the influx of the newest brick and mortar shops. They seem to have become havens of self-help, yoga, meditation, and coffee and music.

And while I practice yoga and meditation myself I don’t want to go to my local Craft shop to pick up a yoga mat, balance ball, or a book by Dr. Phil. I want to pick up the tools for my ceremonies and spell crafting and, unfortunately, the kind of shop I want seems to be few and far between (except on line.) It feels as though the craft as I remember it is being homogenized and made so “acceptable” in the eyes of the general public that it is becoming useless to serious practitioners. But I digress here.

So to sum up this article, does it mean that I am not a real Witch because I had no one to “lead the way” or no coven to adopt me and teach me “their right way”? Quite frankly I think that makes me an even better real Witch because I had to figure it out for myself. And because of that my understanding and beliefs don’t quite fit into any prescribed dogma. So that is why I stay a solitary practitioner and that is why I have stepped back from the community as a whole.

But then I don’t look at being a Witch as a religion, with all of its implied rules and regulations and dogma. I look at being a Witch in the same way that the old village Witches looked at it. I revere the earth and heavens and do my best to respect and tread lightly on her.

I try to live a spiritual life without bowing to or begging the acceptance of any one archetypal being. I look at the Goddess and Gods as a representation on this plane of the source of all energy and power. I cast spells for my own benefit, and mine alone, as I don’t believe I have the right to manipulate anyone else’s life. And I believe that Karma will out eventually.

I believe that being a Witch is as simple as that. It’s in your heart, it’s in your soul, and it’s who YOU know you really are. Not because someone gives you permission to be one simply because you read and adhere to someone else’s views as written down and published. Or because you attend meetings once a week, or once a month, or even once a quarter.

But because YOU know you are. And whether you are solitary or a member of a group, no matter what that group represents, you are really on your own. You must practice, practice, practice, and hold that knowing in your own heart…alone.

That’s what makes you a “real Witch.”

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Doing What the Book Says: A Cautionary Tale

Doing What the Book Says: A Cautionary Tale

Author: Bronwen Forbes

I was young, I was a shiny new Pagan, the Internet – which made contacting my fellow religionists as easy as calling my mom – was about ten years away from being invented, and by gosh I was going to perform this solitary sabbat exactly as The Book told me to! (And no, I’m not going to tell you which “The Book” it was. It would only embarrass me further and wouldn’t do the now-deceased author’s reputation any good. Okay, okay I’ll give you a hint somewhere below) : By the time I’d finished my ritual, I’d nearly burned the house down – a house that included my dog, four cats, and my born again Christian (now ex) husband.

But I learned a valuable lesson that night, a lesson that I see more and more new Pagans ignoring these days:

Books (and now the Internet) are no substitute for practical, hands-on experience with a group of like-minded people. But allow me to continue my illustration:

The Book said I needed a cauldron for this ritual, so I found a really cute brass one at Pier One – it even had soldered-on brass feet which I thought was particularly important – it’d be up off the hideous pumpkin orange shag carpet in my den because Gods forbid I scorch the hideous pumpkin orange shag carpet. The Book said to pour about an inch and a half of rubbing alcohol into the cauldron. And light it.

And, Gods help me and my now ex-husband who was sleeping – oblivious to the ritual and the fire – in the next room and the dog and the cats, I lit it.

The Book didn’t say (or maybe I missed that part) that this ritual had been designed to be performed outside. Outside where, theoretically, a six-foot column of flame shooting out of a brass cauldron wouldn’t be quite so much of an issue. Naturally, The Book didn’t say anything about having a pot lid or sand nearby to smother the flames, so I had no way to douse the tall bonfire that was pretty much the same shade as the hideous pumpkin orange shag carpet.

The Book also didn’t say that the cauldron would, ideally, be cast iron, and not soldered brass bits. Any intelligent, experienced ritualist could have told me that, but I didn’t know any other ritualists yet – intelligent or otherwise – so I was on my own. And it finally dawned on me that I was in big trouble when the solder attaching one of the cauldron legs melted from the heat, causing the pot to tip sideways.

I now had about four feet of flame at about a forty to forty-five degree angle from the floor. I’m just damn lucky it didn’t tip so far that the alcohol poured out onto the aforementioned lovely orange shag carpet. As it was, some of the individual threads were a little black and crunchy if you examined them too closely.

Eventually, the inch and a half of rubbing alcohol burned itself out. Subdued, I finished the rest of the ritual as quickly as possible, put my things away, and crawled into bed beside my still-sleeping spouse. All that was left to deal with was the interesting conversation the next day.

Him: How did that black stuff get on the ceiling in the den? It looks like soot.

Me: I have no idea, dear.

Him: And the carpet looks like it’s singed or something.

Me: Really? I hadn’t noticed.

Funny? Yes. Stupid and potentially lethal? You betcha. However, the incident made me understand the contemporary wisdom of the old phrase, “You cannot be a witch alone” and I started circling and studying with the nearest group before the next sabbat. (Nice to know I’m not as dumb as I look!)

I am not saying that being a solitary practitioner is a bad thing. Far from it, whether you choose to be so for personal or geographical reasons. I am saying, don’t leave your common sense in the back pocket of your other pants whenever you open a book of Pagan rituals or click on a Pagan how-to website. It’s not common sense to wear a short, sleeveless tunic at an outdoor ritual in January. In Wisconsin. It’s not common sense to fast if you have any sort of blood sugar issue. And it’s sure not common sense to try to set your den on fire just because The Book said to do something a certain way. If I’d been thinking, instead of slavishly following, I’d have had one heck of a less exciting evening – to my benefit. And yes, these are all examples of bad advice I’ve seen in books and online.

If some faceless Pagan authority (me included) writes that you should do something and your gut tells you it’s a bad idea, listen to your gut. Better yet, go find someone who’s actually been in ritual with other people and ask them – and their friends. If, through Witchvox, you can’t find someone in your neighborhood, well, it’s better to go online and ask around rather than suffer frostbite – or burn your house down. Better yet, see if you can spend a few holidays in ritual with them, ask questions, learn how rituals are — and are not — supposed to go.

I’m on a lot of online Pagan forums, and I can’t even begin to count how many posts go something like, “I tried this ritual with my friends last night and now I feel sick and I have the worst headache. What did I do wrong?” Well, did you ground and center beforehand? “No, the ritual didn’t say to.” Did you check to see if you might be allergic to whatever you burned as incense? “Um, no.” Did you eat anything beforehand? “Um, no.” Five minutes asking about these sorts of basics beforehand, either online or at a local Pagan meet up would stop most, if not all, of these sad posts.

I’m also a print journalism major, and my professors are always cautioning me that if something, no matter how preposterous, is written down, people will believe it. This includes you. So we future newspaper reporters need to be extra careful about making sure our stories are as accurate as possible. How do we do that? We confirm through other sources anything we’re told as “fact.”

I cannot advise you too strongly to do the same.

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