Daily Archives: April 1, 2012

A Modern Perspective On Traditional Witchcraft

A Modern Perspective On Traditional Witchcraft

Author: Baudrons

One thing I’ve noticed in the pagan community over the past few years is the increase of people identifying themselves as “traditional witches”. Most of the time, they fail to claim membership in any specific tradition but are quick to point out that what they practice is good, old-fashioned “traditional witchcraft” and not some watered down pap like Wicca. As someone possessing a lifelong interest in witchcraft, these assertions piqued my curiosity. Just what could this dark stream of magic swirling through the shadows be?

After witnessing the deconstruction of Wicca by scholars, accredited and pseudo, I found the prospect of some genuinely old traditions of witchcraft free from the idiosyncrasies of retired British civil servants intriguing.

Although the clichéd granny stories that have circulated for years promise a glimpse into hereditary forms of witchcraft, they rarely, if ever, deliver. Most of the time, the witchcraft purportedly passed down from one’s elder family members turns out to be some eclectic form of Wicca. A romantic childhood memory aside, just because one’s grandmother was superstitious, had a penchant for burning candles, and was handy with the folk remedies hardly qualifies her as a witch. Considering that the grandmother in question is invariably unavailable and no one else in the family is around to substantiate these tales, most accounts of hereditary witchcraft tend to fall apart like cheap furniture. Alex Sanders, holder of arguably the best grandmother story of all time, later recanted as have others so it seems reasonable to indulge in a bit of healthy skepticism when confronted with an account of family witchcraft.

As so many non-Wiccan witches describe themselves as practicing traditional witchcraft, defining the term seemed a logical place to begin my investigation. Witchcraft is a notoriously slippery word. Categorizing witches is like filling a box with those little Styrofoam packing peanuts. You can get most of them in but there’s always a couple that wind up on the carpet.

Isaac Bonewits did a fair job sorting out various types of witches and witchcraft years ago but I found his categorizations a bit too broad to be of much use. The historical accounts of witchcraft I read usually portrayed witches as disaffected loners working malfeasant magic against a society that feared and rejected them. In stark contrast to the glamorous and powerful sorceress of mythology, the historical witch- overwhelmingly female- was an unfortunate wretch depending on charity and likely to seek vengeance when refused.

Others, the so-called “white witches”, acted as healers and midwives, using their skills to the benefit of others. Armed with a comprehensive knowledge of herbalism, divination, and healing methods as well as a keen insight into human behavior, their abilities were prized as truly magical. These cunning folk, however, were careful to refer to themselves by culturally specific terms like pellar, power doctor, root worker, or cuandero in order to avoid being confused with the witch, their diabolical counterpart. Often times, these practitioners were employed to reverse the effects of witchcraft leveled by their more evilly disposed brethren. In some cases, if paid enough, the more mercenary cunning folk would level curses themselves.

The people who caught my attention claiming traditional status were ostensibly of European descent so I narrowed the scope of my search and focused on the British Isles with its rich history of witchcraft. In my research, I discovered some uncanny similarities between the witchcraft of Europe and that described by the Scotch-Irish settlers in the Appalachian region so it made sense to turn my attention across the Atlantic. Having picked up the trail in Albion, I began to explore the long history of sorcery there. Another task was to explore the term “traditional” and how it relates to witchcraft.

Were I to ask random passerby what they traditionally associate with witches, I’m reasonably certain the response would include such things as pointy hats and black cats, bubbling cauldrons, and broomsticks, the classic Halloween stereotype modern witches simultaneously rail against and embrace. While this image of the witch owes its popularity more to The Wizard of Oz than historical precedent, it has its origins somewhere. The witchcraft popularized by Gardner is vastly different in its trappings and suggests a different source. To follow the spoor of traditional witchcraft, it was necessary to look past these 20th century influences.

When I first became interested in witchcraft, the party line was that it represented a link back to the halcyon days of pre-Christian Europe where matriarchal tribes sang paeans to their gods under ancient oaks. That pleasant myth has long been discredited but modern pagans cling to vestiges of it by refusing to abandon the idea of pre-Christian fertility and ecstasy cults entirely. The theories of Margaret Murray may have fallen by the wayside but more modern scholars such as Carlo Ginzburg, Ronald Hutton, Claude Lecouteux, Emma Wilby, Eva Pocs, and Owen Davies have since picked up the academic mantle for today’s witches to use as standards of scholarly respectability.

In addition to their work, superstitions, rural customs, folktales, legends, and songs get trotted out as evidence for traditions of witchcraft predating Gerald Gardner’s controversial claims. In an ironic twist, the hodge-podge of evidence used by Gardner’s detractors actually bolsters his position. Various elements present in Wicca can be demonstrated as having their origins in places other than the New Forest but there is also much to suggest the wily old goat was privy to things other than ceremonial magic and Margaret Murray. That witchcraft existed prior to Gardner there can be no doubt. But was it the same as what modern “traditional witches” make it out to be?

Probably not.

I’m no history major but I do know that the British Isles have been subject to the influences of outside influences since Roman times. The Romans themselves may have brought their gods with them when they invaded Britain but classical deities play a very minor role in traditional witchcraft. Indigenous Celtic deities have their place in traditional witchcraft but the pantheon championed by a good number of self-described traditional witches, the one exerting, the greatest influence arrived later with Saxons. These Nordic god forms took root in British soil and were imbued with Saxon influences, names, and influences. Gods such as Odhinn the All-Father and Dame Holda wield a profound influence on what some consider traditional witchcraft. Legends like that of the Wild Hunt, shamanic practices similar to those found in other Germanic lands, magical use of runes, and a shared cosmology are evidence that much of what is called traditional witchcraft has origins in the pagan cultures of northern Europe.

Yet, in keeping with witchcraft’s evasive nature, another crowd of traditional witches eschews the Teutonic for the Biblical. These practitioners hew more to an altogether different worldview and populate their craft with fallen angels as well as pagan nature deities. These fallen ones, Lucifer and the Watchers being chief among them, are regarded as Promethean figures and the original teachers of mankind. Rather than a source of suffering, they are thought to bring illumination, spilling their light into the dark recesses of ignorance. It is from these divine teachers that mankind first received knowledge of agriculture, metal craft, medicine, art and science. Quite often, Cain, the first murderer, is described as the primal source of “witch-blood”, the spiritual thread linking practitioners together through the ages.

Dragging the waters for more evidence of traditional witchcraft kicked up even more mud. As I peered back into pre-Gardnerian, post-Saxon England, I chanced upon an even more curious influence: Christianity.

England, Ireland, and the other regions of the British Isles have been Christianized for centuries. The Christianity in some regions serves as a thin veneer for indigenous forms of Paganism but, over centuries, the two have become so intertwined that there is no easy separation. Wicca is clearly Pagan in origin but Judeo-Christian symbolism has crept in around the edges. The same can be said for traditional witchcraft. Just about every charm spell I read pre-Gardnerian 19th century tracts call upon the power of one saint or another as well as that of Jesus Christ himself. The more-Pagan-than-thou among us, seeking to divorce themselves from Judeo-Christian influences in their magical practice, face an uphill battle because the whole of western occultism is shot through with it.

Many of those claiming to practice traditional witchcraft are influenced, directly or indirectly, by the work of such notables as Robert Cochrane, Nigel Jackson, and Andrew Chumbley. Cochrane and Chumbley, both deceased, claimed hereditary status, that their witchcraft had been passed down through previous generations. However, both of these gentlemen appeared in Gardner’s wake and their work contains elements found in Gardnerian Wicca leading to a chicken and egg dilemma.

In the case of Robert Cochrane, it has been demonstrated that much of what he had to say about himself was less than truthful and that he was himself either a Gardnerian initiate or, at the very least, had a mole in a Gardnerian coven. Chumbley, on the other hand, was in possession of genuinely old material and his works show clear influences of pre-Gardnerian cunning craft as well as post-Gardnerian constructs such as chaos magic. Chumbley’s pre-Gardnerian influences fall more along the lines of Biblically influenced rather than Pagan witchcraft and suggests ties to the cunning folk of the 18th and 19th centuries. Both men can be considered brilliant in their own right but, as with Gardner, other influences can be discerned in their work.

The explosion of Wicca’s popularity during the 1990s unfortunately led to a spate of substandard works being published in order to capitalize on the fad. As with all such cultural phenomena, there was the inevitable backlash. Disenchanted by the glittery marketing of purportedly Wiccan materials and linked together by the Internet, another witchcraft community formed. Taking its cue from historical imagery and sources, it formed its own conventions and aesthetics to link disparate sources together in a tenuous but somewhat cohesive form.

Initially, the most solidarity I’ve observed among self-described traditional witches came from a dismissive attitude towards Wicca and eclecticism. Yet as one digs deeper into both traditional Wicca and witchcraft, those hard and fast lines start to blur it becomes apparent and I began to see that, minus Gardner’s idiosyncrasies, Wicca is simply a regional form of witchcraft, similar to but distinct from that found in other areas of the British Isles.

What Gardner did was give the surviving fragments of witchcraft found in the New Forest a more defined structure by borrowing liberally from other sources. Had he settled in another area of England and made contact with witches there, contemporary Wicca might have taken a radically different form or may never have come into being at all. Indeed, it is a salient fact that Garner spoke only of witchcraft and witches he called the ‘Wica’. What has been spread across popular culture in recent years is simply not the same thing.

Some have taken exception to my conclusions but so far I’ve seen precious little evidence to convince me that I’m on the wrong track. The history of witchcraft is just that, history. It informs the practice of all modern witches, no matter what their identification. To claim one form of witchcraft as purer in substance as many are wont to do is a waste of time and effort and ultimately denotes insecurity rather than confidence. With witchcraft, tradition is a much poorer measure of validity than effectiveness.


Footnotes:
Nigel Jackson
Andrew Chumbley
Robert Cochrane
Gerald Gardner
Mike Howard
All the intelligent people I’ve had the pleasure of arguing this subject with

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Pagan and Agnostic: The Tale of the Doubting Witch

Pagan and Agnostic: The Tale of the Doubting Witch

Author: Jeffery Johnson

I’ve lived just over three decades on this planet, which I realize isn’t long. However, I’ve lived long enough to know that time changes people. It can change our personalities, our way of looking at the world, our beliefs on any number of things. As an awkward teenage boy I felt so certain of a divine being’s existence, namely the God of Abraham. Or did I? I remember having doubts at times. I was always quick to sweep them under the rug. I figured life couldn’t possibly have meaning without a higher power, and why bother living then?

When I made the break with Christianity in 2009, then in my late twenties, the old gods and goddesses romanced me. I fell in love with the Great Mother, personified by the shining moon and the earth. For me, she stood for beauty, sexuality, knowledge, empowerment, love and acceptance. She symbolized personal freedom and justice. As a gay man who’d spent the better part of his life repressed by the church’s threats of damnation, it doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to figure out why I’d be drawn to the Goddess.

And this begs the question—does the Goddess really exist? Are Ishtar, Isis, and Inanna really waiting to hear their devotees’ prayers and praises, eager to aid them and receive their offerings? Do Kernunnos and Pan dwell in the forests among the wild stags and is Green Man incarnate in shrubs and vines? Are they real, or are they symbols? I’ve been struggling with that question for some time.

Some people believe in one or more deities and would stake everything they hold dear on that conviction. Others, to the contrary, consider belief in Allah, Minerva, or any divine being or force to be the product of ignorant, childish, delusional minds and wishful thinking. I wish I could have such certainty one way or the other. However, as it turns out, faith or lack thereof isn’t always so cut and dry. I may feel to the depths of my being on any given day that the Goddess lives, and on another day I’ll feel quite agnostic, or even atheistic. At this point in my life, I’m very much a skeptic with regards to the divine.

Visions and near-death experiences, although I read of them with fascination, feel awfully subjective upon inspection. For example, in author Betty J. Eadie’s NDE (described in her book Embraced by the Light) , Christ plays a prominent role. In the NDE’s of others he is absent, along with any other godlike entity. For many, their experience of the other side is joyful; for some it’s frightening. Mystics, saints and ordinary people alike have claimed to visit realms both heavenly and hellish (hence popular Christian books such as 23 Minutes in Hell) . Certainly, these contradicting “visions” aren’t all accurate or valid, and surely some are outright hoaxes. Yet I’m in no position to judge the sincerity of those who really believe they’ve had such encounters. Are such visions and visitations the result of overactive imaginations or hallucinations? In the case of NDE’s, is a real spiritual experience taking place or is the phenomenon the brain’s response to physical trauma? I remain skeptical.

I want to believe I’ll survive the event of my bodily expiration. I want to know with certainty that I’ll see my loved ones again. Yet I doubt. I love to read ghost stories and have a sizeable collection of them. Time after time, I’ve seen fairly credible-looking people assert the reality of their run-ins with spirits of the dead. Plus, I have sane friends who have told me they’ve experienced ghosts and other eerie events that can’t be explained away. Additionally, I’ve read or heard of some fairly convincing accounts of reincarnation. As one example, the movie Yesterday’s Children, in which Jane Seymour’s character dreams of a former life in Ireland, is perhaps based on actual events. She eventually travels to Ireland to have every detail of her past memories confirmed. I want to believe, but my stubborn brain is always getting in the way of my heart. Logos versus pathos.

I admire nonbelievers—people like Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis, whose novel Elmer Gantry depicts the evils of a power-hungry charlatan preacher. People like Madalyn Murray O’ Hair, once dubbed “the most hated woman in America, ” who challenged school prayer and made a career out of mocking religion at a time when doing so was extremely unpopular. I equally respect the “new atheist” crowd, especially the late Christopher Hitchens, who could reduce clergy and creationists to babbling puddles with his brilliant “hitchslaps.” Whether one loathes or loves antitheists, one can’t help but marvel at their fearlessness in bucking the status quo of mainstream piety, exposing the hypocrisy of many of God’s so-called followers. More often than not, I find their observations about religion to be right on.

Still, Neopaganism gives me a framework with which to celebrate life. Observing the cycle of seasonal sabbats and phases of the moon makes me feel more grounded in my connection to the web of life, of which I am a tiny part. I love the drama and beauty of ritual. I’m proud to be part of a faith, or rather a way of life, which claims among its ranks bold pioneers such as Laurie Cabot and Margot Adler. Pagans, Witches and Heathens, like atheists, humanists and freethinkers, are widely misunderstood and discriminated against, and both groups have fought and continue to fight hard battles to have their voices heard in a Christian-dominated society.

I know I’m not the only Pagan who doubts the existence of gods and life after death. Are we of the agnostic persuasion being disingenuous in continuing to call ourselves Wiccans, Pagans, Druids, etc.? Undoubtedly my atheist friends would tell me it’s time to throw away my tarot decks and Raymond Buckland books and without excuse embrace nonbelief in its entirety. “Quit pretending, ” they’d say. Surely the Flying Spaghetti Monster waits with noodly appendages wide open to embrace me as one of the Pastafarian fold.

The thing is, I’m not pretending. I’ve not sugarcoated my doubts, nor have I hidden the fact that I believe organized religion more often than not is a negative force on this planet. When I die, I may very well cease to exist, only to live on in people’s memories and through the good deeds I did while living. Or perhaps I’ll discover that really does go on in another form.

Either way, I want to keep my mind and heart open. Is imagination always a bad thing? If I take a walk in the forest and feel the Green Man’s presence, am I psychotic? According to some, probably so. But I’ll never go door to door asking folks if they’ve accepted Green Man into their hearts. No holy war has ever been fought, to my knowledge, in the Green Man’s name. Mine would be a harmless delusion, to be sure. So, at the risk of being considered insane by the atheists I so admire, I refuse to divest my existence of possibility. Maybe Green Man is real. Maybe he exists only in the minds of those who honor him. Does it matter? I’m not sure it does.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is cool, to be sure, but I need to cut back on carbs. For now, my heart remains with the Old Ones, who continue to inspire me—real or not. As I stated earlier, time changes people. Maybe one day my faith will be reborn. So mote it be! RAmen!

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What Do You Believe?

What Do You Believe?

Author: Hamish

As a working solitary for many years, the question of belief simply never arose. I knew what I sensed in the greater world, and I knew that Paganism, or Wicca or what have you, was compatible with my science- based view of creation. My solitary status actually allowed me to go my merry way, taking what I wanted for personal practice and simply throwing out what didn’t fit or what clearly needed hands-on training. Seriously, being solitary has its joys. You are able to create a path that satisfies your desire to reach out to Divinity in a valid and highly personal way.

And then I joined a Tradition.

I am, by nature, a late bloomer. After fifteen years of exploring Paganism as a belief system, ten where I actually self identified as Pagan, I finally joined a coven. Please understand that I am in no way disparaging solitary practice. To the contrary, being Solitary allowed me to come to terms with my past experiences, and saved me from myself on more occasions than I care to recall. Solitary is a path that should be recognized by the Pagan community for the staunchly independent and varied road that it is, and is nurtured by my coven and the very hard work of my HPs and HP. I believe that devotion to any type of earth-centered religion is uniquely suited to solitary work, and that solitary practice is every bit as valid as that of a group. That said, the challenge of defining belief is a difference that has drawn the line pretty solidly (for me) between my solitary and group practice.

I was raised Episcopalian. Within that tradition, no one ever asked me if I believed in God. No one asked what I thought God looked like, or where I thought He lived; it was assumed that the answer would be what I had been clearly taught from the time I could sit up in church. In my experience, the thought process never really entered in to it; it is a system based on faith. You are told what to believe, and if you don’t buy into the basic dogma, you leave. Fair enough, I say. There are millions of people who take what they need from this system of worship, and that is fine. But if you seek balance, and find it in one of the various forms of Paganism, what then? Until someone looks you in the eye and actually asks you what you believe, do you really think about it?

There are many Solitaries who adopt a specific pantheon and drill deeply into their belief of what they are doing and why. I was not one of those. I looked at the Gods and Goddesses as mythological archetypes that served to link me to certain energies—and that was it. Now here I am, standing in circle with a group of people whose intelligences I greatly respect, and am asked to not only talk to Deity, but to see and feel Their presence in the room.

Now I believe that Pagans are skeptics by nature. This is one of the things that are endemic of this path. We do not take everything at face value; we test, scrutinize and question the authorities that seek to lead us, hence the “herding cats” analogy. Regardless of the fabulous teachers and friends that I have made along this path, sensing (specific pantheon) Goddess and Gods in circle is still not easy for me. It is, in fact, one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with. This is not to say that I have not experienced great ritual where mind-blowing energy is produced. On the contrary, I have been moved to tears on more than one occasion. But what of the actual presence of deity, of an actual God or Goddess standing right there, smack in front of you and all of your fellow seekers? This was one of the first big belief issues that I dealt with (and am still dealing with) when I joined a group.

I am what my big- city husband refers to as a ‘carrot cruncher.’ I was born and raised in the sticks, on a farm and deeply nestled within the bosom of small town America. My point of reference comes from that backdrop—I believe in nature spirits, I believe in the power of spell work and I most certainly believe that the true essence of God/ess is tied to nature, albeit a much larger natural world than my non-Pagan friends acknowledge. I freely believe in the presence of unseen personalities, and unseen intelligences imbedded in all fibers of life.

I also believe in the existence of many forms of life of which I am only afforded brief glimpses, or whose presences I most certainly take on faith. But do I believe in the conscious presence of mythical personalities called in circle, personalities that have been assigned characteristics in much the same way as many popular literary characters of our time? This is where skeptical me is on full alert, front and center. This is hard, this skeptical me that will not allow ideas to be validated until I have tested, tasted, smelled, touched and retested.

Clearly a cumbersome task.

As a child, belief rides hand-in-hand with trust; as an adult it rides with proof. So how does one find proof of something as intangible as God/ess? Answer: you seek out the proof that you need to either make it acceptable, or to throw it out. For me, that means introspection, meditation and real work to keep my mind open and available to accept different ideas. Journaling helps as well, because you need a standard to compare your impressions. And that is what I did, and continue to do. I am talking about the archetypical characters that many consider their patrons, not God/dess as a universal force, but as a personal being with very specific personality traits.
So where has this gotten me? I’ll tell you a little story.

I started studying Hecate, as the Dark Goddess appeals to me on many different levels. I bought the books, meditated on Her symbolism and read as many writings as I could get a hold of. Nothing appeared to me; no feeling of closeness with the Goddess and no signs in nature presented themselves to me, no proof appeared. And then one night I was seriously stressed out. You know what I’m talking about, a night when everything from work to money to whether my plants were healthy were weighing on my mind to the point where I was making myself physically ill. I tossed and turned until around 3am, when I sat up in bed and decided I would try to reach out to Her one more time. So I did, and darn it if I did not see, in my mind’s eye, a woman, face ever-changing (I had the sense that it changed, strangely, from faces that I had never seen before to friends, to movie stars, all different races, all different ages) — and before I could say anything, She reached out and grabbed my stress, which felt like a black, goopy ball of something right around my solar plexus, and pulled it out of my chest. As I watched open mouthed, She shoved that nasty, goopy glob of muck into Her mouth and swallowed.

I felt immediate relief mixed with a touch of shock and a dab of disgust. She then instructed me to allow whatever black goop was left in my body to leak out, down my spine and into the Earth, and to be careful not to let a drop remain, or it would grow back. I did what I was told while She licked Her fingers clean. She then invited me to call on Her any time that I have something as delicious to feed Her with, and She disappeared before I could even say thank you. But thank Her I did, as the next morning I woke up to renewed vigor, and although my problems had not disappeared, I felt fully capable, healthy and able to deal with whatever needed dealing with.

So, does this erase all of my skepticism? Does it allow me to fully accept the various God/dess forms called upon in ritual? The short answer is: not exactly. I feel that this allowed me to take another step toward better understanding. It has brought the question that was set before me, through interaction with my coven-mates, toward another thread of questioning. You may be rolling your eyes at this point, but I have found that every experience opens up a different road of inquiry-a different pathway full of questions, answers and wonder.

There are those who have been on this path for a very long time, and those who have just started. The one thing that they should have in common is curiosity for the unknown, a mind that is open enough to explore concepts that are foreign to them, and to accept the ways of all positive paths as valid, regardless of individual beliefs and practices. This does, of course, assume that those practices are healthy and add to individual growth. Keeping an open mind does not negate the responsibility of all to scrutinize and decide what is believable and positive, and what is not.

This is the only way, in my opinion, that we are able to remain a true, pure form of spirituality and not just another brand of political dogma. For my part, I will do the same, and hopefully will acquire a clearer understanding, regardless of my final conclusions. Belief is not something that comes easy for me, and skepticism is part of who I am, but this should not be anyone’s excuse for remaining in the dark.

For now I ask you to keep seeking, keep testing, and keep the wonder of the unknown alive. I will leave you with the words of a famous skeptic:

“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what is true.” —Carl Sagan, 1995

Brightest Blessings,
Hamish

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Pagan Sin

Pagan Sin

Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen

Sin is an interesting thing to consider in modern Paganism. With many believing that, “all acts of love and pleasure are Her (the Goddess’) rituals” (taken from Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess) , is there room for a Pagan concept of sin? Sin is perceived by many to be either sexual or violent in nature. Since many Pagans feel that to ignore your sexual needs is to do yourself a disservice, the common Christian “original sin” is not applicable to modern Paganism; and while such things as adultery may be frowned upon as emotionally damaging, we have no scriptures telling us to stone those that cheat on their spouses. Violent sin has been secularized into laws; murder and assault are typically seen as amoral regardless of religious background (or lack thereof) .

So do Pagans have sin? I would say they do, but first, let’s look at the role sin plays.

Humans thrive on hardship (and guilt) . If humans decided to live near an active volcano (which is a hardship, as well as a boon) , they then feel guilty when it destroys the village (they somehow angered the gods and must atone for their indiscretions) . If humans did not thrive on this cycle, we probably would not have civilizations that grew in some of the most unforgiving environments. So humans need some feeling of guilt. Where do many modern Pagans get this guilt they require? Eco-Guilt.

Eco-Guilt does have homes in the secular world; there are plenty of non-Pagans that try to live as “green” a life as possible. However, I have not seen another creed outside adherence to the Rede that can make a Pagan look down at another Pagan as somehow “not walking the Pagan walk” as much as this one does. There are different factions within it as well (vegan/PETA, home-steaders, etc) .

There’s this fantasy that ancient Pagans all lived in harmony with nature; that because they depended so much on the natural cycles that they never did any damage to the earth, ever. Because of this fantasy, many modern Pagans want to get back to that “deep connection to the earth” that has been lost. I can respect that. I myself fantasize about living Pagan-Amish style; growing my own wheat, brewing my own mead and raising my own goats (fainting goats, specifically, they’re so wonderfully silly) . I do buy into the Eco-Guilt mind-set myself, I just think that some Pagans get up on soap boxes and try their hardest to prove they are “Greener (and therefore more Pagan) than Thou.”

The problem is that ancient Pagans were guilty of harming the earth in their own way. If you go back two thousand years, you would find Roman strip mines. The only difference is how deep they could go with the level of technology they had. The Bronze and Iron Ages would not have existed without human impact upon the earth. As a race, we’ve never been too kind to rivers; in towns, human waste lined the streets. Land was cleared to farm, meaning trees were cut down. Even in Celtic society, who really loved their trees, woodland had to be cleared for building and farming. In fact, we know so much about ancient peoples, not just from their tombs and buildings, but because they left huge trash heaps that give us insights into their diets and daily living. Mining, landfills, deforestation: This was all part of life as much then as it is now. Granted, they may have done these things with more respect than what is typically given now, but they would not have felt guilty for bettering their lives through food, shelter, tools, art and commerce.

Let’s look at the organic argument. Not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers may be better for the environment, but such farming methods take more work and have a lower yield. This (as well as having a smaller buying market) is why organic food is more expensive. If you have four children and enough money to buy either four non-organic apples or two organic apples, which would you buy? The hard-core Eco-Pagan may suggest giving your children half an organic apple (which tend to be smaller than non-organic apples anyway) , arguing that they will get better nutrition from it (this argument has never been proven) . A more practical person would think it much better to wash the non-organic apples well, but buy those to ensure that each child is well nourished. This is the problem with trying to enforce your view of green-ness on someone else; they might not be able to afford the luxury you have. Starving people in Africa need food that will grow there consistently, and current organic methods just won’t work there.

How about recycling? Not every town in this country has its own recycling center/program. Sometimes, in order to recycle, you may have to travel pretty far to do so. At which point do the emissions from your car counter-balance the act of recycling? Not to mention that recycling itself creates its own carbon footprint. You could drive yourself crazy nickel and diming every moment of every day to find out just how much damage you are doing.

So, what about those little extras Pagans often need? Stones (quartz, citrine, etc.) have to be mined. As does the iron used for cauldrons and athames (and, most recommend that the blade be new to ensure it never let blood, so no reduce, reuse, recycle there) . The silver and gold used for our daily and ritual jewelry is also mined. Books require paper, paper comes from trees (granted much paper is recycled or comes from farmed trees these days) and there is (apparently, I never heard of this rule until recently) a rule against buying used Pagan books (I buy most books used, but I’m a very frugal Pagan, and I don’t think books can hold much of your energy unless you write them yourself, like your Book of Shadows) .

Now, you can use plastic for prayer beads rather than those made of real gemstones, but the argument can be made that this is worse since A) plastic is made from oil (and we all know the hazards of oil drilling) and B) fake stones (similar to synthetic fragrance oils) will not work like the real thing; why use something that will not work as well that creates as much or more harm to the earth than using the original would be?

You can decide to be Pagan, but worry so much about every little thing you do that your spirituality suffers. You can’t read books because that harmed trees; you can’t get information from the Internet because that uses electricity, which might come from sources that harm the environment. You can’t even attune to the earth in your own home because the stones you might use to do that may have been unfairly torn from Momma Earth’s womb.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be mindful, we should be, and we need to be. There are a lot more humans inhabiting Earth now (I would hazard to say too many, but that’s my opinion) and we live in a consumer-driven “disposable” society. Maybe, as Pagans, we can get used books; we don’t need a different athame for every Sabbat and we don’t need twenty-five pieces of the same type of stone. That does not mean that we can’t have one athame and a few stones (granted maybe only one or two stones per kind) ; spiritual growth shouldn’t stagnate because of Eco-Guilt.

Do the best you can, but don’t beat yourself (or anyone else) up over slip-ups. No one’s going to prescribe you to say five “Our Gaias” and three “Hail Horned Ones” to gain forgiveness from the gods. You have to forgive yourself. You can’t hold yourself to an unrealistic ecological ideal; you’re not always going to have the option of doing it the “green” way.

So never mind how bad Eco-Edna and Green-Gary might try to make you feel, be confident that you are doing your best and following your path. If they think you use too much and don’t recycle enough, take that criticism and see if you are capable of doing better. Just remember, sometimes you have to choose between what might be better for you and yours and what might be better for the earth. Don’t feel guilty about choosing you and yours.


Footnotes:
Facts on organic farming and recycling taken from interviews with experts as provided by Penn and Teller’s Bull****!

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Crone Inspiration

Crone Inspiration

Author: etain.butterfly

I work in an outpatient surgery center and I must share a story about a lively 92-year-old Crone that came in for cataract surgery. As I was interviewing her I noticed she was really tan so I ask if she had been on vacation and she said with a gleam in her eyes “Why yes, I just got back from visiting my son and his wife in Florida.” I ask if she had a nice time and she chuckled and said, “Not really; I thought they were boring. All they wanted to do was watch TV.” I ask her what she would have liked to do and she answered “Go parasailing on the beach, do some snorkeling to view the beautiful fish in the ocean, and to go horseback riding’.

Wow, what an amazing energetic view on what a vacation should be. She was so full of positive energy and love of life. I couldn’t help thinking…”I want to be like that when I am her age”. She was a real ‘Crone – Inspiration’ and a joy to listen to. When it was my break time I sat with her in recovery room and listened to her views on life and the importance of keeping active.

According to Wikipedia: “The crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tale, an old woman who is usually disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing. She is marginalized by her exclusion from the reproductive cycle, [1] and her proximity to death places her in contact with occult wisdom. As a character type, the crone shares characteristics with the hag”.

Funny, I don’t see myself as disagreeable (although I can be at times) , malicious, or sinister in manner. Just for the record I don’t have a huge wart on my nose either.

According to Merriam-Webster: “Origin of Hag – Middle English hagge demon, old woman. First known use: the 14-century. The word became further specialized as the third aspect of the Triple Goddess popularized by Robert Graves and subsequently in some forms of neopaganism, particularly Wicca.”

Crone Council states: “Crone, hag, and witch once were positive words for old women. Crone comes from crown, indicating wisdom emanating from the head; hag comes from hagio meaning holy; and witch comes from wit meaning wise. Crones, hags, and witches frequently were leaders, midwives and healers in their communities. The meanings of these three words, however, were distorted and eventually reversed during the 300 years of the Inquisition when the male-dominated church wanted to eliminate women holding positions of power. Women identified as witches, who were often older women, i.e. crones and hags, were tortured and burned, and the words witch, crone, and hag took on the negative connotations that continue in our language. The Crone Movement, however, is re-claiming the positive meanings of these words.
The Crone began re-emerging into our consciousness in the early 1980s, and today many older women are embracing this connection. We are tapping into the ancient crone’s attributes of wisdom, compassion, transformation, healing laughter, and bawdiness. The ancient crone archetype strengthens our belief and confidence in age-accumulated knowledge, insights and intuitions enabling women to stand up for their rights.”*

The Crone Goddess or dark mother is the last aspect of the Triple Goddess, [Maiden, Mother and Crone] and she represents part of the circle of life. In today’s society where it seems everyone worships youth and beauty, this aspect of the Goddess is the most frightening and misunderstood of the three, as she symbolizes our destruction, decay and death. Here, as in nature, the death of winter is followed by the promise of rebirth in the spring.

Her positive attribute is often depicted as a Grandmother, a wise woman, or a midwife. She is beyond child bearing and now is the wisdom keeper, seer, and healer that is often sought out to guide others during life’s hardships and transitions. Her color is black and she is associated with waning or new moon, autumn and winter.

When I look into the mirror I see some wrinkles representing the aging process. My step isn’t like it was in my 20s; however some say it is hard to keep up with my pace. I don’t dwell on the changes happening to my body. I embrace the gift of living and all that the God and Goddess have allowed me to experience. I don’t sit home watching TV – I am out adding new experiences to my long list of things to do. Right now I am concentrating on Poi, and learning a new Tarot deck.

My 92-year-old patient told me to always treat your body as a temple – for God will reward you for taking care of yourself. She also said looking at the glass as half empty instead of half full will drain the life energy right out of you. She also said to look at life as if you were an innocent child and in doing so you will see adventure all around you. With that sparkle in her eyes she also said, “It doesn’t hurt to have a glass or two of good wine” She won my heart over with that remark.

I am Crone and I am a proud Crone. I have been on a journey of self-discovery for many, many years. I have learned many things as I have traveled on my true path of life. I have made mistakes; learned by those mistakes and moved on. I have learned to be more kind, show more compassion, learn to listen more and speak less. I have learned to share my life’s experiences. I am a Crone, I am a wise Crone, and most importantly I am a Happy Crone.
I wrote this poem to express what being a Crone means to me…

I am Crone (by Etain©)

I am Crone
I have learned to Know
I have wisdom to share and show

I am Crone
I have learned to Will
Manifest for goodwill

I am Crone
I have learned to Dare
It’s energizing I do declare

I am Crone
I have learned to Keep Silent
My happiness is reliant


Footnotes:
* http://cronescounsel.org/The_Ancient_Cone

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Special Kitty of the Day for April 1

Lily, the Cat of the Day
Name: Lily
Age: One year old
Gender: Female
Kind: Calico
Home: Denver, Colorado, USA
Lily joined our household in November 2011. We lost our sweet eighteen-year-old calico “Cali” last year. When we saw Lily we knew it was time to add her to our household in memory of Cali. She looks a lot like a “Lucky Cat” you see in Asian restaurants, and we are the lucky ones to have found her. She was abandoned in a house with her sister kittens and rescued by a local cat organization. We spotted her in a local pet store chain where she was up for adoption. It was love at first sight.

Lily is petite, fetches, drinks water from faucets, and watches everything we do with great interest. We see that adorable pink nose up close all the time. Lily’s favorite activity is to prance up the staircase with a small plastic yogurt cup in her mouth, then throw it downstairs, over and over. Her vocalizations are various and unique — she meows loudly and frantically while she waits for us to get out of the shower. She says “mmmmm” with a question mark at the end to great us when we enter a room. She also carries on conversations. She has the markings of a calico or tri-color Japanese Bobtail, but as you can see, she has a long tail with a white dot at the end. She is extremely calm and gets along well with two males cats in the household, ages eight and eleven. In fact, she rules!

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Super Special Pet of the Day for April 1

Granny, the Pet of the Day
Name: Granny
Age: Deceased, 37 years old
Gender: Female
Kind: Donkey
Home: LaPorte, Indiana, USA
This is Granny. She really was the grandma of the group. Sadly, she passed away last October. I rescued her from a cow farm where her job was to protect the cows from coyotes. You can see on her back the “cross” markings that legend has it were given to donkeys because one carried Jesus on Palm Sunday.

The vet thought she was at least 35 years old when she arrived here. When she first came, she was a little standoffish. After lots of brushing and love, though, she always wanted more! All the donkeys love kids, and Granny was no exception. The neighborhood kids always bring treats so when the donkeys see them coming, they run to the edge of the fence. Granny became like a puppy dog, following us around the pasture. She truly was a gem! Many people have the misconception that donkeys do not serve any real purpose. That is so not true. Until you have experienced owning one, you will never know the joy and love they can bring. She holds a special place in my heart. I felt like I gave her the best life a donkey could want in her last two years of her life.

She loved peppermints and had no problem begging for them! I miss her very much

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Knock Knock

Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Sarah!
Sarah who?
Sarah doctor in the house?

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