Daily Archives: May 26, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be A Pagan In Today’s World?

Author: Brid’s Closet 

What does it mean to be a Pagan in today’s world?

I was sitting by my desk, thinking about topics for classes at my store. Many topics come to mind, but nothing seemed to “jump” out at me. I brought up this subject to a good friend of mine (who is not pagan), and she brought up this topic.

What does it mean to be Pagan? A “card carrying” PAGAN?

Many people are still very quiet about their choices in life, even to how they practice their religion or their form of spirituality. Many friends of mine are still in the “closet” about being a Pagan or being Wiccan. That is their choice, but not mine. I have the wonderful opportunity to be open about whatever it is that I do because I own my own business.

My sons also have choice as far as to what they believe. My oldest was degreed by me, because that was his choice, and I am proud of him because of that. My middle son considers himself to be agnostic (like his dad), but still is always looking. My youngest is still not sure as of yet. He takes in a lot, asks a lot of questions and is processing what he receives. They are fine young men, all of whom I am fiercely protective and proud of.

Some keywords that come into my mind are “love, strength, happiness, comfort, inner confidence empowerment, and honor”. Being a Pagan has helped to see that I have the ability to make a change in my own life, whether it is on a magical level or a mundane one.

A lot of people come into my store asking very similar questions, but what I do most of the time is to explain what I am not:

I am not a Satanist (the term “Satan” doesn’t exist in the pagan world.)
I don’t work or believe in the devil.

I don’t walk around in black clothes all the time (though it is fun sometimes!)

I don’t sacrifice animals…or use them in any rituals (my dog does like to run in and out of circle sometimes!)

I don’t bash other Pagan traditions.

I am not evil, nor is my spirituality evil.

I don’t run round naked, except in the privacy of my own room (maybe!)

I don’t have sex with others in ritual.

I don’t insult or blast other religions. People have done that for far too long in history to Pagans. I won’t do that to others!

Nope…don’t do the orgy thingy either!

What I do….hmmm…

I do honor Mother Earth. I see the earth as a living and breathing organism.

I do believe that all animals have a soul, and should be treated and loved as we expect to be loved ourselves.

I do try to live as “chemical free” as possible. This means that no chemicals or bug killers are applied to my lawn. 2 of my animals eat the grass on my lawn if the weather permits. No bleached flour, raw sugar, recycled paper. A friend of mine raises organically raised chickens, so I have organic eggs!

I keep as many trees as possible on the land that I am blessed to live on. Trees block the sun and keep your home cooler!

I do honor other people’s religions and their chosen paths.

I go love the Goddess and the God, as I would honor my own parents.
I try to use cosmetic products that are cruelty free.

I do try to grow my own herbs and vegetables when possible.

I recycle my paper, bottles, plastic and cans.

I do a full moon ritual once a month and celebrate the 8 holidays in the wheel of the year.

I guess I could just go on and on!

Once, a person came in and asked me why I was insulting myself by using the words “HEATHEN”, “PAGAN”, and “WITCH” to describe myself! In his teachings, he was taught that these words were an insult. He was shocked that I was proud of these terms!

The word “PAGAN” actually means “country dweller” or “civilian” or “peasant”.
1: Definition: Refers to any of the pre-Christian, (usually) polytheistic religions, or those who practice them. Wicca is one Pagan religion, as is Asatru, Santeria, Voodoo, or Shamanism.

The term “HEATHEN” is old English for Germanic paganism.
2: Definition: Among non-Pagans, the term ‘heathen’ just means anyone who is non-Christian. But Pagans use the term to refer specifically to those who follow a Norse or Germanic path.

A WITCH was known as a “wise” person, an herbalist, a midwife or a medicine person. (I’m an Alexandrian Witch!)
3: Definition: A witch is someone who practices witchcraft (either male or female), regardless of their religious standing. Not necessarily the same thing as a Wiccan (someone who follows the religion of Wicca)

These are words that I have come to embrace and be proud of. These words open up conversation and dialog, so that others will learn, understand and appreciate. Sometimes people appreciate the information that is given, other times, they don’t.

As a Pagan, I’ve raised 3 fantastic sons, have a “metaphysical” store that I share with my best friend, counsel people, rehabilitate birds, rescued a dog, a chinchilla and a bunny (who think they own my home!), teach classes, train special needs people (personal training) and in love with the most remarkable man.

What does it mean to be a “PAGAN”?

It means being a mom, a lover, a caregiver, councilor, herbalist, a cook, storeowner, and a woman dealing with today’s modern world who practices a very old way of worship.

Bernadette Montana is a very eclectic 3rd degree Alexandrian Priestess, a pipe carrier in the Sun Bear Native American Tribe, professional Tarot reader, a mom to 3 sons, one dog, 2 parrots, a bunny and a chinchilla and owns a metaphysical store named Brid’s Closet in Orange County, New York. Bernadette@bridscloset.com

Thanks to Terri Paajanen who posted the definitions of Pagan, Heathen, and Witch on the About website!


Footnotes:
Terri Paajanen who posted the definitions of PAGAN, HEATHEN, and WITCH on the About website!

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Advice for Beginners

Author: Moonspider

Beginners, you are about to embark on what may be the most important journey of your life. To you, I say, “Welcome. Be joyful on this road, for it has chosen you, and only special few are chosen. This is a powerful journey that may save your life; indeed it has my own, many times. Many blessings be with you on this magical journey.”0″>What is your best piece of advice for those just starting out?

To those just starting out — read, read, read, and when you’re eyes go buggy, rest them a minute, then read some more. Many wonderful books, magazines and web pages exist for you today, explore them. Remember, this is your journey and you must take active responsibility for it. There is literally a plethora of information out there available to you, and much at little or no cost to you.

Some may start by using the KIS method. Keep it simple. Choose one author, or one topic at a time, and methodically read and work it. Really study it and work the methods suggested. Submerge yourself in it. Get really acquainted with techniques, keep what works and discard the rest. Then go on to the next author or topic.

When you are called, and yes, I mean called by the Goddess, you will be guided. This path is not for everybody, and many may explore its ways and then choose to go elsewhere. When Goddess chooses you, the feeling will be very different. Either way inner guidance will show you the way.

Tools are lovely, but remember they are just that tools. You are the magic. The Witch is the magic. More magic exists in your mind and your own finger than any hand-crafted, solid (insert the metal (or wood) of your choice), jewel encrusted do-dad that you can buy at any price. Are they nice? Of course. But, I’ll match any found twig wand’s magic against any $2, 000 one any day. Pagan artisans do create beautiful tools, but the beginner need not spend oodles of money to work well on this path.

Your tools will be presented to you as you need them, and at the right price. It will be like the floodgates have opened. You will find the shop that you never knew existed. You will find a teacher, etc. You will find out that people you’ve been dealing with are Witches. And each are as varied as there are numbers of grains of sand. Your first teacher may not be the only teacher, so keep and open mind. And you may get the answers from unlikely sources, so discount nothing. Listening in the very beginning is vital.

As time goes on, keep notes and then question, question, question. Accept nothing at face value. Remember that this is more than just a religion, its a way of life. This is a very important road to travel, and you are in the driver’s seat.

Ritual is lovely, but its only part of the Craft. Some people get stuck on ritual — getting it right. Don’t worry about the mechanics. It will come. Ritual is like riding a bike, or any new task, it gets easier with practice. Remember, its only a part of the Craft. Until, I had students some years back, I did very little physical ritual. Because of living arrangements, most of the ritual I performed took place in my head. Did it make me less of a Witch? No. Did it make my magic less effective? No. Different strokes for different folks as they say. Witches are the most adaptable and creative people I’ve ever met. How do you think we’ve survived through time!?

Mistakes, will you make ‘em? You betcha. Like anything they should be learned from; they are tools, too. Actually, this is important in any area of life, not just the Craft. Not only will you learn from them (hopefully), but you will then have a knowledge base that you can draw from when you become teachers. Yes, that is how we grow, the young’ens will become teachers eventually. Its simply a natural progression.

Elders — listen to them. They have a body of knowledge — experience, and that you just can’t buy, or read, its earned. Just like parents, they’ve been around the block and know a thing or two. And sometimes they need to tell you things that you don’t want to hear (many times for your own good).

It bothers me when I hear young folks criticize elders, especially with erroneous data. Or, those they’ve never met, or even read their work. Come on folks, get real here. Our computer age has added to this dilemma. Almost anyone can be an expert — NOT! As was mentioned earlier, read and question. Just because you found it on the Web or written in a book for that matter, doesn’t make it so.

Remember, that teachers (elders) are people too, and aren’t perfect. Our country is prone to hero worship, and it can be devastating to some when they find out their Œguru’ is human. At times you will learn more from a bad teacher, or experience, than a good one. Its extremely helpful to know what not to do, as it is what to do. This all helps build your knowledge base.0″>What was the best piece of advice or wisdom that you have ever received?

Know why you are doing what you are doing. Very simple. This does play off much of the above. You do not need toys. They are fun, but you don’t need them. You are the magic, you are the tool. Many times I feel my best magic’s come from when I am sitting on the edge of my bed, with my eyes closed, and performing the perfect ritual in my head. Solitaries are no less Witches than our covened brethren. On the other hand, public ritual is nice and fun for we are social creatures. Its great to join in with those of like mind from time to time.

If asked to do anything illegal or immoral, run. Oprah Winfrey has a saying with problems, you usually get a pebble before you get the brick. Beware teachers who push toys (I mean tools), or who charge exorbitant fees for training. If classes are held in a shop, the proprietor pays rent, and are providing a service to you, so some form of remuneration should be expected. Remember, you’re asking someone to share their knowledge with you that they earned. And, you will pay more attention to it, if you have to pay for it. Some of the poorest things come to you on a silver platter. Listen to your inner voice in all matters, it won’t let you down.

Enjoy the journey, don’t rush it. You don’t have to get everything right, right away. This is a lifelong journey, not a 6 week course and your done. Take your time. Enthusiasm is one thing, but rushing is unneccessary.

If you could tell a beginner only one thing, what would it be?

Trust yourself. This goes from choosing a teacher, to performing magic. Take nothing at face value, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Its that simple. Nothing should be forced. Does this mean the Craft will be smooth sailing? Hardly. You will be tested, Goddess knows, but never before you are ready. Remember, without conflict there can be no growth. Witchcraft is not static, it grows and evolves.

One last piece of advice would be to check out all the goodies available to you right here at The Witches’ Voice. This is simply one of the best sites for Witches and Pagans anywhere. But, since you’re reading this piece on that site you already know that. Many blessings on your journey.

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What’s In A Name?

Author: Life is a Dance Regardless

Recently, someone spoke with me about some problems surrounding the word “Pagan”. This person told to be careful about who I speak to when claiming that I am one, even other people claiming to be Pagan. It is hard for me to agree with her. I can’t wrap my head around it actually. Truly, I understand exactly where she is coming from, but I disagree with her entirely.

What she is saying is that people may tell me that I am going about being Pagan in the wrong way. Other pagans may be angry with me for the way that I practice my faith. People may advise me on what I should do differently, whom I should speak to, and which people to avoid. What books should I read? Where should I go? What should I do? How should I practice my faith? How, in fact, should I practice my life?

Admittedly, I am new to it, and perhaps I need guidance but I have realized something important. There are people in every faith who think that their way is the Truth. There are people in Life in general who think their way is the Truth. This is something we all have to deal with throughout our entire lives because people have different opinions.

For the most part, I have not respected religion in the past because of its inability to recognize that everyone needs something different in his or her life. Some people do not need faith, and most religions fail to allow room for that view. I explained to my friend that being a “good Pagan” was like declaring oneself a “good Christian”. The term is likely to mean something different from one person to the next.

For one Christian, being good may be hating people in other religions, and another, it may be loving and accepting no matter what. The Bible can be interpreted differently, though some people think otherwise. As such, different people can interpret Paganism differently.

It is not, in fact, a problem with religion, which is why I respect religion so much at this point. It is, has always been, and will always be a problem with individuals. No way is the right way. No way is the wrong way. Religion is not math or science, where one false move can completely screw up your equation, or burn your eyebrows off. Religion is something to be taken seriously, but it is not rocket science. It is for the pure and sole purpose of finding yourself. What do you, as an individual think is right or wrong?

I am 18, graduated high school last spring and am now looking for a job. For me personally, I believe going into college using someone else’s money is wrong. It is my preference to earn enough money to enter a trade school of my choice without needing debt solutions. My aunt suggests I get a loan from my grandpa, but even then, I have debt. There are certain things I do not want to deal with at this point in my life. I would rather have the means to rely on myself. I believe that I should enjoy the little things. There are more important things than brushing my hair in the morning. Sometimes, it may be drinking coffee, watching the sunrise, or simply dressing and running to wish my neighbors good luck on the first of a new month. I water my plants every day. I enjoy what I have. I take time to enjoy my connection with Mother Earth.

I realize to some people that this may be the wrong way to go about my faith. However, I also told my friend that calling myself Pagan, to me, would be like calling myself Christian. There are many different facets to each religion. If I were a Christian, I could go more in depth and say I belonged to the Baptists, or that I was Episcopalian. I am not, as it happens. I claim to be Pagan because I am not yet sure of my choice of where to go on my spiritual path. I am also unsure of what I want to do in life.

I believe there are simple principles imbedded in the Pagan practice that I have tried to honor for my entire life. We must love, honor, and respect others regardless of what their belief is. It is best to live naturally. We must not harm others, regardless of our feelings toward them. If others discriminate, we should not sink to their level. We are better than that. We share a love of all things in nature and we worship that which enables to live and prosper.

I honor my Mother. I honor my Father. Both biological and spiritual. I love my neighbors. I love myself. I honor my Elders, but I also believe you have to earn my respect and attention to get it. I try to live in the best way I can. I try to love even those who do me wrong, because they show me exactly what I do not want to be.

I wrote a poem for one of my friend’s birthday. I put in what I thought she could use in her future, things I myself wish to live by.

Never regret the mistakes you have made
But never forget, or you’ll trip on your blade
Always know, you are never alone
Even when you’re lost, you always have home
Good people with good hearts are far between few
Always aim sharp, always aim true
Whether or not you can witness the fight
Fight for what you believe with all your might
Know that a moment comes only one time
Soak in the moment before the clock strikes and bells chime
Try to live each moment in grace
Those you hate, you should try to embrace
For they show you who you ought not to be
And that is a gift, to the highest degree
Do not get mad if a beggar can’t help you
They may be more in need, so bid him adieu
If possible, speak in whispers, and listen when you can
An inadvertent learning is most precious and most grand
And finally, never stumble on a grain of sand
But hold the world in the palm of your hand
You are a Goddess, and if you try, you’ll always win
The courage of a Goddess always comes from within

Forgive me if I am wrong, but for me, I am not.

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A Witch By Any Other Name (The Great Wicca vs. Witchcraft Debate)

Author: Mike Nichols

“A difference that makes no difference is not a difference.” –Ambassador Spock

It took more than twenty years before I first ran across the notion that Witchcraft and Wicca were not the same thing. I don’t remember where I first read it, but I do remember feeling bemused at such an assertion, and assumed the author had failed to do adequate research into the origins of the word “witch”. I also assumed I’d heard the last of it. I assumed wrong!

Over the years, I’ve seen this sentiment turning up more and more, in conversations, in online discussions and websites, and even in published works on Witchcraft. It is often stated with such conviction that one might conclude it is the very least one needs to know on the subject. The author is usually at pains to convey the distinction that Wicca designates a religion, whereas Witchcraft is merely the practice of magic. In recent years, I have come across three further amplifications: The first is that some groups identify themselves as practicing Wicca exclusively, as a religious or spiritual path. As such, they do not hold with the more “debased” practice of Witchcraft or other magic! The second is that some groups claim that Witchcraft predates Wicca (which they apparently believe was invented by Gerald Gardner) and is therefore more “authentic”. The third is that only practitioners who are in a lineal descent from Gardner or one of his covens may use the word Wicca to describe their tradition. All others would have to default to the word Witchcraft for their praxis.

Needless to say (or is it?), this so-called “distinction” between Witchcraft and Wicca came as a huge surprise, and a bit of a shock, to those of us who embarked upon this path back in the 1960s and ’70s. Although the term Wicca was known (as the origin of the word Witch), it was seldom used. We were Witches, pure and simple. And we practiced Witchcraft, or sometimes “the Craft”, or (based on a popular but incorrect etymology) “the Craft of the Wise”, or “the Old Religion”. But nobody practiced “Wicca”. Even Gardnerians called themselves Witches, typically modified by others to Gardnerian Witches. On the rare occasion when the word Wicca did come up, it was used interchangeably with Witchcraft. Most often, it was when someone was trying to dodge the issue. Potential father-in-law: “So what is this weird cult my daughter says you’re into?” Boyfriend (blood draining from face): “Uhhhhh….. OH! I think you must mean Wicca? yeah, that’s it… Say, how about those Dodgers?”

The attempt to make a distinction between the spiritual, devotional, or celebrational side of our religion, and the more utilitarian use of ritual and ceremony to effect desired changes in our world, would never have occurred to us. One of the principle tenets of Witchcraft is that the spiritual and material sides of life interpenetrate one another and cannot be meaningfully separated. To attempt to do so is to encourage the sort of Neo-Platonic dualism that has bedeviled our Western society for centuries and led to, among other things, the demonizing of sex and the body, and disdain for our environment. In fact, any attempt to separate Wicca from Witchcraft, the religious practice from the magical practice, is not only historically misguided, but politically dangerous. It plays us directly into the hands of our detractors. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The first question to tackle is where this idea came from. It clearly wasn’t there in the 1960s. Nor can it be found in the writings of the 1970s. In fact, an unambiguous reference to this idea does not occur until the late1980s! So the first thing to realize is that this notion is of far more recent vintage than most people would believe. Books about Witchcraft (such as Sybil Leek’s Diary of a Witch, in which she speaks of Witchcraft as a religion) began to be published frequently from the 1960s onward, yet they used the word Wicca quite sparingly. In fact, the first popular book to use the word Wicca in the title did not appear until 1988! This was Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Had this title appeared in bookstores in the ’60s or ’70s, the most likely reaction, even from Witches themselves, would have been “Huh?!” They would have recognized the word, but would have wondered why such an obscure term should have been preferred to a common one. Not coincidentally, Scott Cunningham was among the first writers to claim there is a difference between Wicca and Witchcraft.

But is there really a difference? In point of fact, “wicca” and “witch” are the same word. This cannot be overstated because few people today believe it. Nonetheless, it is true. Wicca is simply the earlier form of the word witch. Proof of this can easily be found in the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary. The O.E.D. (as it is known by scholars) is the highest court of appeals for questions of etymology. “Witch” comes from the Saxon word “wicca”. That is a noun with a masculine ending, and (hold on to your pointy hats!) it should properly be pronounced “witch’-ah”, not “wick’-ah”! In the Saxon tongue, nouns had either masculine or feminine endings, depending on their referents. The feminine form was “wicce”, properly pronounced “witch’-eh”. Note the same word was applied to both males and females (no ‘warlocks’ here!), with only the ending changed. As the word evolved into modern English, the gender ending was dropped, leaving us with a word that is pronounced “witch”, and ultimately spelled that way.

When you consider that the Saxon “cc” was pronounced “tch”, it becomes easier to understand how the modern word “witch” is derived from the Old English “wicca”, and how, ultimately, they are the same word. To say that they are different words, with a different provenance, and different meanings, is to ignore these simple facts. While we’re at it, here’s one more surprise: the word “wiccan”, although typically used by modern Witches to modify a noun (“This is a Wiccan ceremony.”), is not an adjective. It’s a plural noun. One wicca, two wiccan. That’s the masculine plural ending, obviously. The feminine plural form would be “wiccen” (rhymes with bitchin’). ;) Although in modern English, the “s” or “es” plural ending is the most common, the “an” or “en” plural is not unknown, the most obvious example being child > children.

So how is it that Wicca came to be seen as distinct and separate from Witch, in both provenance and meaning? One might speculate that Gerald Gardner himself played a role. Not only did Gardner revive and popularize the craft of the witch, he also revived and popularized the older Saxon form of the word, wicca. In doing so, however, he spelled it with only one “c”, rendering it as “wica” in his writings. This tended to undermine the correct “tch” pronunciation of the original “wicca”, and thus to obscure its obvious connection with the word “witch”. Further, it may have encouraged the now common pronunciation of “wicca” as “wick’-ah”, an entirely new critter in our English lexicon. This criticism of Gardner’s spelling may actually be too harsh considering “wicca” dates to a time before dictionaries or standardized orthography were invented.

Incidentally, there are some authors today who are so convinced that Gardner invented modern Wicca, or Witchcraft (as opposed to simply reviving it), that they also mistakenly believe that he invented the word “wicca” itself! (Even more amusing, an article on a well-known Wiccan website recently claimed that Selena Fox invented the word Wicca in the 1960s!) Again, anyone who takes the trouble to do a modicum of research will discover the antiquity of the word. According to the O.E.D. (and as noted by Doreen Valiente), the oldest extant appearance of the word “wicca” can be found in the Law Codes of Alfred the Great, circa 890 C.E. Alfred was a Christian and zealous about converting everyone under his rule to his faith. Those who followed the pre-Christian “superstitious” practices of their Pagan ancestors were called Wiccan, whether they were Alfred’s own countrymen, or the Celtic people in the areas Alfred was conquering. What did the Celts themselves call these people, in 890? Not Wiccan, because that was the Saxon word for it. Very probably, they used some form of the modern word “druid”. That being the case, we have a scenario dating back over a thousand years, where the word “Witch” was applied to people who called themselves “Druid”. This is one reason I have always believed that Druidism is one of the tributaries (and a large one!) of modern Witchcraft. (This will no doubt give hissy-fits to all those authors who have written Wicca-Isn’t-Celtic articles.)

So now the question becomes, did the word Wicca become totally extinct at some time before Gardner resurrected it? The answer will come as a shock to many. It may have been “extinct” in the sense of being replaced by “witch” in common usage, but it continued to be known in its earlier form, “wicca”, even before Gardner came onto the scene. One quick and obvious proof of this is that J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, used the word “wicca” when drafting his earliest manuscript of The Two Towers. We know this because Tolkien’s son Christopher has meticulously documented his father’s creative process throughout twelve volumes of analysis. In volume seven, “The Treason of Isengard”, Ch. XX, “The Riders of Rohan”, Christopher mentions, in a passing footnote, that Tolkien uses the word “wicca” apparently to identify the characters Gandalf and Saruman, who were otherwise called “wizards” throughout the trilogy. The word “wicca” is written in the margin next to the scene discussing the identity of a mysterious old bearded man wondering Rohan. Tolkien was writing this draft in 1942, ten years before Gardner published his first treatise on Wica. So it is impossible for Gardner to have influenced Tolkien’s use of the term. Nor did Tolkien influence Gardner, since this marginalia was unpublished. These were totally independent uses of the same word by different authors working in different fields, with Tolkien giving the more common spelling a full decade before Gardner.

Therefore, if Wicca is merely an earlier form of the word Witch, and still extant in the decades before Gardner, it seems highly unlikely that Wicca and Witchcraft mean two different things. Of course, to make them perfectly parallel, one should give the latter the fuller Saxon form, Wicce-cræft. But what did the word Wicca actually mean? How does one define it? Before traveling too far down that road, it will be necessary to dismiss a couple of pop etymologies that have gained favor in recent decades. The first is that “wicca” is the origin of our modern words “wisdom” and “wise”. Hence, Wicce-cræft is the “Craft of the Wise”. This is a lovely concept, and one embraced by many practicing Witches today who call their religion “the Craft of the Wise”, or simply “the Craft” for short. Sadly, this etymology is no longer supportable. Still, it is easy to see how the confusion arose, since the two concepts touch each other at many historical points. It was a common practice for many centuries to refer to the village herbalist or midwife as either a “witch” or a “wise woman”. As Reginald Scott says in his Discoverie of Witchcraft (published in 1584), “At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, ‘she is a witch,’ or ‘she is a wise woman.'” We also know that the male equivalent of such a person was often termed a “wizard” (remember Tolkien’s wizards, also designated “wicca”), and wizard is etymologically connected to the words “wisdom” and “wise”. Finally, it will be recalled that King Alfred applied the word “wiccan” to people who very probably referred to themselves by a variant of the word “Druid”, which has been translated as “oak wisdom” or “oak wise”. So the connection between “witch” and “wisdom”, if not linguistic, is a long-standing and stubborn one.

A slightly more recent attempt at the etymology of “wicca” relates it to an ancient word that meant “to twist or bend”. Supporters of this theory “explained” it by saying that Witches are people who “twist or bend” reality ˆ a reference to their magical workings. The only thing that seems twisted or bent about this explanation is that it is strained almost to the breaking point. So if “wicca” doesn’t mean either “twisted” or “wisdom” (or Twisted Wisdom ˆ which would be a great name for a Pagan rock band), what does it mean? My own inclination is to follow the lead of historian Jeffrey Burton Russell and trace the word wicca back to its ultimate origin in the Indo-European root word, *weik2. Linguists now believe that *weik2 had a meaning that was about halfway between our modern concepts of “religion” and “magic”. It might best be explained by drawing a Venn diagram of two overlapping circles, one labeled “religion” and one labeled “magic”. *Weik2 would apply to the area where the two circles overlap. And this meaning is just what one would logically expect. (Interestingly, the only other word in any modern Indic language that is also traced back to weik2 is the word “Veda”, a word used to designate Hindu sacred scriptures, once again underscoring its connection to religious tradition.)

So then, is Wicce-cræft or Witchcraft a religion? Is someone designated as Wicca or Witch a follower of that religion? The short answer is that it all depends on what you mean by “religion”. Scholars of comparative religion will already know where I’m going with this. In our Western culture, we tend to think of religion in very narrow terms. We suppose it always comes with certain trappings and structures, and that it remains highly consistent over time. We might assume a religion must have specific beliefs, that it has sacred scriptures, that it has a recognizable clergy, that it has some connection to a God or Gods, that is has a specific set of rituals, that is has a hierarchy of followers, or that it champions a certain set of moral precepts. Surprisingly, as travelers to the Orient have discovered, many of the world’s great religions break one or more of these rules. All the more so do the hundreds of smaller, tribal, and aboriginal religions break them. Some of these religions are little more than a loose collection of rituals and devotions that change dramatically over time. They are not the large-scale, well-funded, organized religions typical of the West. Rather, they might best be described as “folk religions”. It is in this sense that Witchcraft is a religion. And always has been. And always will be.

No, of course Witches don’t practice their rituals the same way their Pagan ancestors did two thousand years ago. Neither do Christians still gather in catacombs to hold their agapes. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t followers of Christianity. Any more than Witches aren‚t followers of their own ancient religion. Of course Witches didn’t call their religion “Witchcraft” two thousand years ago. Neither did Christians call theirs “Christianity”. They didn’t even speak the same language! Any more than Witches did! Nor did they worship the same Gods! The Jewish religion once had many Gods (and Goddesses! ˆ see the work of Raphael Patai) and, according to archeological evidence, kept them well into Roman times, long after the monotheistic reforms were supposed to have taken place. (There’s something you won’t hear from your local Rabbi!) Early Christians had many Gods and Goddesses, too, as anyone familiar with the Nag Hammadi Library knows only too well. Yes, I’m speaking of “Gnostic” Christians, but remember they probably outnumbered the proto-orthodox Christians by the second century and, as recent archeological discoveries have shown, spread as far as the British Isles! What eventually became “normative” Christianity had to be painfully hammered out at Nicea and similar Church councils over the centuries. Most religions, including Christianity, have gone through just as many changes down the centuries as Witchcraft has, and yet we don’t doubt their continuity. Why should Witchcraft be held to a different standard?

When Christianity and Witchcraft first began to clash, Christianity certainly regarded Witchcraft as a competing religion. In the “Canon Episcopi”, a part of official Church doctrine, which may date back to the fourth century, Witches were accused of following the Goddess Diana. It wasn’t until later that the Church shifted its stance and began accusing Witches of devil-worship, instead. Although Margaret Murray is the scholar usually credited with the thesis that European Witchcraft was the remnants of the old, pre-Christian Pagan faith, she was by no means the first to suggest this. That honor should probably go to German linguist and folklorist Jacob Grimm (yep, that Jacob Grimm, of Grimm’s Fairy Tales fame). However discredited some of Murray’s ideas may have become, to jettison her core thesis (and Grimm’s) may be throwing the baby out with the bath. Modern historian Carlo Ginzburg, in his exploration of the “Benandanti” in sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy, has unearthed much well-documented evidence of the survival of ancient European Pagan spiritual practices well into the Christian era. Since this material has been widely accepted even by skeptics, could it also throw new light on that pivotal 1899 publication by Charles Godfrey Leland, Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches, which examines the survival of Witchcraft practices in Tuscany? If one defines “religion” in the broad sense used by scholars of comparative religion, it seems clear that Witchcraft does indeed meet the criteria. But Witchcraft is even more than that.

It is also the practice (or the “craft”) of magic. As we have seen, “wicca” may have come from a word that mixes elements of religion and magic in equal parts. Why is this so important? Because it underscores the idea that religion and magic are not mutually exclusive, that they can exist side by side harmoniously: that religious people can use magic to improve their lot, and that people who use magic can be spiritual, religious, “good” people. Academics had long tried to drive a wedge between religion and magic. This can be traced back to the pioneering work of Sir James Frazer and The Golden Bough. Although modern occultists may honor him for codifying the “laws” of magic, he had another agenda. Like most social scientists of his day, he was overwhelmed by Darwinian thinking and began applying evolutionary theory to everything, even to areas where it didn’t fit. Consequently, magic, in Frazer’s view, was nothing more than a debased precursor to “true” religion. As he saw it, the evolution went something like this: Mankind started with a flawed version of cause and effect, called sympathetic and contagious magic. Then, as he evolved, he became animistic, invoking the spirits that inhabit every river, tree, and rock. Then, as he became still more enlightened, he became polytheistic, believing in many Gods and Goddesses, each with different functions. Finally, as man evolved into the paragon of reason that he is today (sic!), he became monotheistic, realizing there could be only One True God.

Granted, this model was quickly dismantled, at least in academic circles. Theodore Gastor, professor of comparative religion, took Frazer to task for this idea, in his preface to a newer critical edition of Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Gastor rightly points out that even the most “primitive” magician does not typically perform magic without invoking a God or Goddess. And in even the most “sophisticated” monotheistic religions, there is still a goodly amount of magic, although it may be re-christened as “liturgy” and “prayer”. (In the West, the Catholic Mass is the parade example of magic as liturgy.) In fact, Gastor goes on to posit that religion and magic are inescapably found together throughout all cultures of the world, throughout all periods of history. Although academics have accepted this revision, non-specialists have been slower to catch on, and the Frazerian model still holds sway for many. It especially appeals to those “sophisticated” monotheists who believe they have already attained the zenith of theological ideals, and that the practice of magic could not possibly have a place in it. Apparently, there are even some new “Wiccan” groups that buy into this, seeing themselves as religious only, and holding themselves above such practices as magic.

To sum up, it seems that the current drive to separate Wicca from Witchcraft, to say that one refers to religion while the other refers to magic, is full of “Frazerian residue”. It appeals to those who are uncomfortable with the thought that religion and magic can happily co-exist. (I suspect that it appeals mainly to Witches who are recent converts from monotheistic creeds, yet have ported a certain amount of their previous belief system into their new faith.) Yet both historically and linguistically, it can be shown that Witch and Wicca are the same word, and that they both mean the same thing, a combination of religion and magic. I am perfectly aware, however, of something that linguists call the “etymological fallacy”, i.e. that a word means its etymology. We all know that the meaning of words can change over time. Maybe this has already happened to the word Wicca. Maybe too many people have too often repeated the newborn platitude, “Wicca and Witchcraft are not the same thing.” Perhaps it is already too late to turn the tide of opinion. Nonetheless, supporting this view would be a catastrophic mistake for a religion like ours. And more to the point, it could be politically dangerous.

It wasn’t long ago that Witches were sometimes arrested for the “crime” of “fortune telling”, e.g. for reading Tarot cards, etc. In many such cases, Witches were able to mount a successful defense by arguing that such magical practices were part of their religion. However, I can envision a scenario in the not-too-distant future where the prosecutor will counter with, “That’s not true! Her religion may be Wicca, but she was merely practicing Witchcraft!” In a culture like ours, in which all magic is seen as suspect by the increasingly political majority religion, it is perilous to allow a dark line to be drawn between religion and magic. Words like Witch and Wicca present us with a unique opportunity to erase that line. These words are the linguistic equivalent of a petri dish in which the cultures of religion and magic have been allowed to mix in equal proportions. I believe it is important for us to champion this unique mix of beliefs. When I first embraced Witchcraft as my path, I knew I was embracing both a religion and a practice of magic. Therefore, I will continue to proclaim that I am a Witch, and I am Wiccan, for it means the same thing. It is my religion, and it is my craft. It is my life.


Footnotes:
Most Recent Text Revision: February 25, 2006 c.e.

Proofing and editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press.

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For the Goddess So Loved the World

For the Goddess So Loved the World

Author: Jeffe
It had always been my dream to own my own house, with a yard and lots of trees. To have nature in my backyard, teeming with life, and a garden of vegetables I would tend to feed my family. It would connect me more to the Earth, far more than did the apartments and condos I’d been living in for the better part of two decades. But such conquests often come with doomful forebodings.

“That lawn isn’t going to mow itself, ” my Dad warned. “And just wait until the snow starts piling up!”

Dad had been there. Nobody’s quite sure where “there” is, exactly, but one look from Dad told me I’d know I was “there” when I got “there.” Shoveling snow with my father is actually one of my fondest memories of childhood, but therein lies the difference between a child’s memory and an adult’s. I remember it as playing in the snow with Dad, and Mom serving us hot cocoa when we came in. For Dad, it was hard work. These days, my father still perceives nature as work, while I see it as divinity.

This thirty-something Pagan, yours truly, hasn’t always been a city dweller. My graduate studies began at age nineteen, plucking me from the country home where my Mom and Dad raised me. My studies were followed by instructor and professor positions at several universities, all of them in the middle of cities. I lived in a series of apartments and condos. Nature had become a destination, an excursion, a break from the norm. I longed for it to be part of my everyday life again.

Shortly after Samhain of 2008, I finally got my house wish. My wife and newborn son and I moved into the first house we’ve ever owned. We had navigated the troubled waters of the depressed housing market to find a good deal on the perfect house in an area with award-winning schools. If you look up our house on Google Earth, you’ll see our yard has by far the most trees for blocks around. Squirrels, birds, rabbits, raccoons, and at least one groundhog are regular visitors. Ducks and crows pop in from time to time. Of course, most of them enjoy my garden a little too much, and apparently there’s a neighborhood skunk who likes to dig up grubs in the yard at night, but that’s alright – I’ll take a little bad with the good.

During the unpacking process, our computers had emerged first, a necessity since my wife and I both teach for a living. But we had yet to set up wireless or any other office stuff. Just on a lark one evening, I tried to search for a local wireless connection. With a little luck, I might be able to piggyback someone else’s signal long enough to check my work e-mail.

There was one wireless network available; a secure networked named “John316.” Perhaps the most famous Bible verse of them all. The verse well-known for its appearances in sports arenas. For its mystical ability to change the course of a football or baseball in mid-air.

“Oh great, ” I thought. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will have high-speed internet.” Like many eclectic Pagans, I’m actually quite well versed in the Bible, as well as numerous other spiritual texts. Blame it on a Catholic upbringing, or several Theology classes in undergraduate school. I like to keep as many doors to wisdom open as possible.

I thought it was a tacky name for an Internet server, until I remembered the numbers of Witches and Pagans I’d met who’d named their pets Merlin, or Lilith, or Hex. Glass houses and all that. I pictured the neighborhood in my mind, and narrowed it down to three houses close enough for their wireless signal to reach us. There were no outward clues to spoil my shell game of “Find the Evangelical, ” but I was sure I would learn soon.

I confess to having felt a little apprehensive about my new neighbors. As a mathematics professor at a Jesuit University, I’d met more than my share of avid Evangelicals. One year, after introducing myself and handing out the syllabus on the first day of class, I asked the class if they had any questions. One student stood bolt upright and asked, “Have you accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

“Um … does anyone have any ‘math’ questions?” I responded.

Call it an irrational fear, but I admit that it hung in the back of mind, for weeks to come: that being open about who I am and how I live might make me target. Not a target of violence, mind you, but a target of general disdain. The “black sheep” of the neighborhood. I envisioned my children someday being gawked at or picked on by the other children at the playground.

There is certain vulnerability inherent in the practice of a religious path that differs from the community norm. It takes courage to be yourself amidst strangers.

A few months passed, and I had enjoyed Yule, just before celebrating Christmas with the rest of family (everyone else in my family is Christian, Catholic mostly) . It was early January when the first monster storm of winter hit the Detroit area. My northern suburb tallied fifteen inches of snow, which came in three nearly equal waves over two days. My shovel was about to get some good use.

I soon learned that it takes me about 30 minutes to shovel 5 inches of snow off my driveway and sidewalks – quite the workout. For those who live far enough South to have not experienced the joys of snow shoveling, let me explain the effort involved. From a standing position, bend over and pick up a bowling ball. Then stand back up and toss it several feet to your left. Repeat this continually for 30 minutes. A quick tip – toss half of the balls in each direction, to even up the back strain.

When it was time for the second round of shoveling, I bundled back up and stepped out into the garage. My wife was out and my son had just settled in for a nap, so I put the baby monitor in my coat pocket. As the garage door went up and I put my boots on, I noticed curtains moving in the window of the large house across the street. I tried not to notice that I was being watched, and set to my labors.

A few minutes into shoveling, out came the neighbor, similarly bundled and pushing his new snow blower. I waved hello and he waved back. By the time I was halfway done shoveling, he had completely finished removing all of his snow, about twice as much as mine, without much effort. I pretended not to notice as he went back into his garage for a few minutes, talking to someone just out of sight, looking over at me now and then.

Finally he came over, with the blower, and with a few arm gestures asked if I’d like some help. I was happy for it, and together we quickly finished off my shoveling and did a little of another neighbor’s. I shook his hand and invited him for a warm-up coffee, and we introduced ourselves. I can’t remember his name, possibly because this is the only time we’ve ever spoken – I’ll just refer to him as “John316.”

John wasted no time and immediately started talking about the Bible Study his family had hosted the night before. I smiled as I poured the coffees. It quickly became clear that he had what I jokingly refer to as “Jesus Tourette’s” … the inability to have a two-minute conversation without mentioning Jesus three times. It’s the Christian version of “Pagan Tourette’s” … I define this as the inability to attend a Pagan meet-up in normal clothing and without mystical jewelry or flair.

John began steering the conversation in ways intended to draw out whether I was a Christian. I probably could have nimbly avoided his transparent attempts for hours, but I decided not to torment him. I let him know who I am. To blunt the trauma suddenly apparent on his face, I told him that I have a lot of respect for Christians who do Bible Studies. And that’s the truth.

Anytime people get together and talk about their faith and its literature, and then think about the moral and ethical implications, they are far more likely to learn something than if they just listen to a preacher. We could all take a lesson in that.

I have to say I enjoyed the conversation immensely. It’s so rare that I get to talk to someone about a spiritual text that we’ve both studied profusely. Any awkwardness was probably from the difference of our viewpoints. For him, the Bible is indisputable truth, laying down the laws and guidelines for the one true path to salvation. For me, it’s a storybook full of Middle Eastern history, both pacifistic and militaristic philosophies, poetry and prose, and fables that sometimes bear pearls of wisdom.

And let’s admit it, the book of Revelations is just plain cool.

He never discussed anything about Paganism, or Witchcraft, or the occult. He wasn’t interested in my faith at all – he just wanted to tell me about his, on the assumption that his way should be everyone’s way. And that’s fine with me. Pagan tolerance and acceptance means letting people be whoever they need to be, so long as they aren’t harming themselves or others. He was doing me no harm; in fact, from his perspective, his intentions were noble and good.

John needed to “witness” to me, so I let him. I think it’s important, as Pagans, to recognize that there are no wrong gods or goddesses, so long as their worshippers use them to try to become better people.

Our back-and-forth banter continued for about forty minutes. He seemed excited to meet a non-Christian could talk about obscure parables, the authors and histories of the lesser known books, and of course the “End Times.” But he also seemed a little angry that I could have studied the book so thoroughly without accepting it as absolute truth. It was as though he wanted to like me, but couldn’t accept me because I don’t fit into his working definition of “good person.”

Finally, perhaps mercifully, my son woke up from his nap. John shook my hand, thanked me for the coffee, and left.

“Have a blessed day, ” he called over his shoulder, with a tone of irritation and resignation, as he pulled the door shut behind him.

“Blessed day ever, ” I thought, wondering whether I’d made a begrudging new friend.

Apparently not. We haven’t spoken since, and he seldom returns a wave.

His wife once approached my wife, to gossip about that awful Mr. Obama and all the bad things he has planned for our troops. My wife, to her credit, exhibited amazing restraint.

“I feel like they’re constantly judging us, ” my wife has told me, on more than one occasion.

That’s a strange thought, considering that John and his family never interact with us in any way. But I feel it too. It’s hard to say how much of it exists just in our heads. I can’t help but wonder what discussions they have about us. I have the feeling that they look down us, but the irony is that by making this assumption about them, I am in fact passing judgment on them.

It saddens me somewhat, but I take comfort in the little, normal rivalries we neighbors have. John’s lawn is a point of pride for him, and my yard is an altar for me. I see him on his porch sometimes, watching me gather up fallen twigs before I mow the lawn. And in the winter, whenever it snows heavily, he seems to wait until I’m shoveling before he starts, just so I can see him finish faster and more easily.

I catch a shadow of a smirk on his face sometimes, as though he’s thinking, “Look how easy it is when you have the right tools.” In my head, I respond, “Look how nice it is to exercise and be in shape.”

And that’s terrific! That’s normal neighbor stuff. I take it as an affirmation that I’m not considered a pox on humanity.

Tolerance doesn’t always begin with a welcome basket and an invitation to dinner. Sometimes it begins with a few people being just as irritated with each other as they are with everyone else. That’s human nature, and it’s messy, and sticky, and beautiful. Amen.


Footnotes:
The Bible, John 3:16 (paraphrased)

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‘THINK on THESE THINGS’ for May 26th

By Joyce Sequichie Hifler

Hardly any of us are without some jealousy. We like to think of ourselves above that painful emotion, because such a monstrous feeling is a destructive thing. But if we have not felt a normal amount of it, it is because we have yet to doubt something we love very much.

Margaret, Queen of Navarre, and sister of Francis I, King of France in the fifteenth century, wrote the following words:

“Love may exist without jealousy, although this is rare; but jealousy may exist without love, and that is common; for jealousy can feed on that which is bitter, no less than on that which is sweet, and is sustained by pride as often as by affection.”

Jealousy can rear its head when logic is giving you the facts, and throw the whole thing into chaos. But confidence is the enemy of jealousy. Confidence, trust, and faith are all strong parts of a nature where jealousy does not rule.

And jealousy, even in moderation, can introduce us to a serious problem with ourselves, if we let it grow out of proportion. It breed rejection while maturity and understanding keep us safely within the bounds of permissiveness rather than possessiveness.

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Available online! ‘Cherokee Feast of Days’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler.

Visit her web site to purchase the wonderful books by Joyce as gifts for yourself or for loved ones……and also for those who don’t have access to the Internet: http://www.hifler.com
Click Here to Buy her books at Amazon.com

Elder’s Meditation of the Day
By White Bison, Inc., an American Indian-owned nonprofit organization. Order their many products from their web site: http://www.whitebison.org

 
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Elder’s Meditation of the Day May 26

Elder’s Meditation of the Day May 26

“The man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization.”

–Luther Standing Bear, OGLALA SIOUX

There is a concept that says you move toward and become that which you think about. If we think about everything as interconnected and interrelated, we will begin to accept the greater whole and that there is a power who is in charge. If we see the cycles of life, if we see the inner powers, if we see the interdependence of the universe, then we will participate in a harmonious way. We all need to pray and meditate on this. We need to understand the property of unity.

My Creator, let me have the insights of nature and give me the power of acceptance.

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May 26 – Daily Feast

May 26 – Daily Feast

Does a child look at an older person and say, “I want to be just like you?” Not usually. More than likely they say to themselves that they hope they are doing better than what they see when they reach the same age. It is a fear thought. Time is getting away and this is what I fear I will be. We are one with other people, we need each other, but we are not all destined to be exactly alike. Common sense and individuality were put in us when we were created – not to be idle but to be used. Why give in to every negative suggestion when all we have to do is tell ourselves it is not, and never will be, acceptable. Tradition is strong in the Cherokee family. Old ones are thought wise and they are respected. But we are all individuals with different gifts that are enhanced by heritage.

~ We never made any trade. Part of the Indians gave up their lands; I never did. The earth is a part of my body, and I never gave up the earth. ~

TOOHULHULSOTE

‘A Cherokee Feast of Days’, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler

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