The Way We Were vs The Way We Are

The Way We Were vs The Way We Are

Author: Ryan Hatcher

If we are to look back to the inception of modern paganism and the people who were the force behind it and were to observe how they practiced, worshipped and worked magic and compared it to how we practice, worship and work magic in modern times, while there is guaranteed to be a great deal of difference, the basic, core values should have remained the same.

I was in Norwich yesterday, a city with a strong pagan undercurrent of its own, for a brief look around the shops to pass some time while my partner enjoyed a 2-hour birthday massage, because of which my wallet had experienced a mass weight loss. So window-shopping it was. On my journey around the city I ventured into a Waterstones bookshop to have a look at their MBS section and had a skim through some of the material. Now, 90% of these books were paganism 101, which is fair enough for a standard mainstream bookshop, but reading through some of these 101 books — some of them recently published — it got me to reflecting: what is taught and considered western paganism now is much different than what it would have been considered to be 60-70 years ago.

What do I mean by this? Well, much of my personal pagan practice is inspired by these ‘old school’ methods with a touch of the modern for flavor (I’m talking about Doreen Valiente and Kevin Cochrane for the older styles, particularly Valiente; the Farrars (Stewart and Janet) represent an in-between period. Kate West and Christopher Penczack add the modern flare.) as I feel their values and ideas resonate with me. Now, keeping Valiente and Cochrane’s ideals in mind (again, more Valiente than Cochrane) , compare them to a lot of Penczack’s work and the work of similar contemporary styles and you’ll see what I’m trying to get at.

The styles and traditions of Valiente and Cochrane (hereon called the ‘older styles’) focus more on the earth-based worship side of paganism: seeing their Gods as personified manifestations of the forces of Life, Love, Death and Rebirth as well as the forces of nature in all it’s guises (be this as the four elements or simply as the grass in your lawn) . I also feel that animism in a subtler form was still there, if only felt and respected rather than overtly expressed.

The crafting of magic seems to have been simpler, as was the training (which doesn’t mean it was by any means easier than today; I’m inclined to say it was harder) . Metaphysical ideas such as energy centres, auras and layers of existence appear to have been acknowledged but were not the priority. The same for ‘the mysteries’ of the craft such as hypnosis, astral projection/trance journeying and psychism in all its forms. The works of the older styles show that they were an important part of their practice along with magic, but they were not the primary focus. I feel they were considered tools and techniques that developed along with the witch as he or she progressed down the spiritual path and was able to understand themselves and their developing abilities better and learn to control, focus and use them.

In contrast, the works of Penczack and his contemporaries (hereon called the ‘newer styles’) seem to focus more on the metaphysical ideas of paganism (energy centres, auras and layers of existence) , ‘the mysteries’ of the craft and magic as being of primary importance and therefore many chapters are devoted to these concepts. Now, I’m not saying this is strictly a bad thing; it may well suit many a new student to paganism, but when it comes to the core values about the spiritual and worship side of paganism, we start to enter the world of ‘love, light and blessed be’.

The realm of the FB, and those big furry ears seem to be cropping up more frequently in pagan literature. The spirituality of the newer styles appears to see the Old Gods as playmates: happy, fun, smiley and They do anything their precious ‘hidden children’ ask for. And unfortunately kids, you just have to look at the global history of paganism and myths of the world to now that is definitely not true. The honouring of nature and the earth extends as far as litter picking and recycling, which are very, very good ideas, and more is being suggested such as planting new trees, getting involved with wildlife protection trusts etc. Unfortunately, I feel many of the witches of the older styles, though some did get involved in these things, chose not to, possibly considering ritual devotion to be sufficient.

Ritual then is the moot point of both the old and new styles. As we are all aware, spiritual practice is a subjective thing, especially when it comes to ritual. Both new and old styles of witchcraft and paganism have placed varying levels of focus on ritual, and all have varying styles and methods in ritual that meets with their needs and the ideals of their respective traditions. However (there had to be a however) , and this goes for both old and new styles of paganism, whatever happened to just going out there and communing with nature face-to-face? No pomp and ceremony, no matter how elaborate or simple, just getting out there and being in the presence of the forces that we as pagans honour and worship.

I say, if you’re in a situation where celebrating a sabbat or an esbat with formal ritual isn’t an option, but you are within distance of a beautiful woodland, then screw it! Go for a walk in the woodland, sit under a tree and meditate! Commune with the spirits of the natural world around you and feel the power of the Old Gods, the powers of life, love, death and rebirth and pour your heart out in gratitude for all you have and for all that it means to be alive.

Wrapping it up: to me, the older styles and the newer styles and those of the styles in-between all have their good points and their bad points. The older styles are more grounded, simple and earthly. The newer styles are more flighty, ‘new-age’, hippy-esque and spiritual (in the modern concept of the word) . I’m sure you can see we have a Yin-Yang situation. And like the Yin and Yang, symbols of the older and newer styles do have parts of the other within them, but what we need to achieve is a balance between the two.

Paganism is a living and growing spiritual path and naturally changes with time, but it shouldn’t lose its heart. If we can bring together old and new, Yin and Yang, then we might be able to evolve paganism further, making it stronger, more refined and give us a definitive direction for us to aim for.

I hope that this essay will encourage pagans, both old hands and new, to review their beliefs, practices and crafts… to look back at the old, and freely explore the new and therein decide what is the best way forward in their spiritual path.

Witchcraft for Tomorrow – Doreen Valiente

Witchcraft a Tradition Renewed – Evan John Jones with Doreen Valiente

The Witches’ Bible – Janet and Stuart Farrar

The Real Witches’ Handbook – Kate West

Gay Witchcraft – Christopher Penczack

Instant Magick – Christopher Penczack


The Path of an American Traditionalist

The Path of an American Traditionalist

Author: Heather Douglas

I write a blog on called “Path of an American Traditionalist”. I decided to call my blog this for one reason. It all starts with Scott Cunningham and “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner”, which was the first Wicca book I was ever introduced to at the age of fourteen. As common as this sounds my mother saw an A and E special on “witches and Wicca” and became instantly enamored with the idea. She went out and purchased none other than a Scott Cunningham book. As I have previously written in another article this would ultimately lead me down the magical path I am still on today. I consider myself very much a follower of Scott Cunningham.

Scott Cunningham has been a very important, influential and inspirational part of not only my craft, but my spiritual self, as well. A man gone too soon, he never had time to fully develop the exact recipe to create a true American Wicca tradition of witchcraft, but he was well down the path before his passing. What most of us witches heavily rely on today all stems from belief systems of other cultures that are not uniquely American. Most tradition of magic that are popularly practiced today have roots in Europe, Asia, as well as various other countries, but only the branch of paganism that could claim some ownership are the Native Americans.

What most witches don’t understand or appreciate (in my opinion) about Scott Cunningham was the message that took the forefront in all of his books. Wicca does not require a system of clergy, standards, rules or authority. The authority comes only from the Goddess and God. Even most of the Native American traditions had an informal hierarchy. Scott’s message has always been a break from, well, tradition!

Having said that, his books are richly steeped in a “tradition” created solely on his own experience with spell work. That is not to say that he does not solely rely on the work of people like Gardner, Crowley and Leek, but what he does is take his personal interpretations of their work and applies the knowledge to further his own. Furthermore the knowledge he applies to his “encyclopedia” type books are well researched, well-written and informative for any witch! In 2009 “Scott Cunningham’s Book of Shadows”, was published by Llewellyn. For obvious reasons, because of his passing in 1993, a new Scott Cunningham book had not been in circulation for a very long time.

It is mentioned in the forward of the book that Scott’s intentions were to create a system of witchcraft/magic that was uniquely American and without constraint. Scott was taking the knowledge, experience and wisdom he had gained from the many years he spent practicing magic and applying the craft to create a non-uniform system of magical practice that’s roots would be American. The author of the forward states that he is uncomfortable with the world “traditionalist”, applied to the work and legacy of Scott Cunningham. He says this because he believes Scott Cunningham was anything but a Traditionalist. I believe the author misunderstands the word and its usage.

While the word “tradition” does normally conjure up thoughts of rules and guide lines within a community, I believe what Scott was trying to convey was a sense of “Tradition” that would be become the basis for a new way of practicing Wicca without the constraints of the “old ways”. His Tradition would be that of religious freedom inside of paganism and Wicca. By using this word he was not trying to start a new religion, but rather build upon and create something that was uniquely American and create something that was American in taste and flair. He was pulling together a system of practicing a sort of “free-base” magical system that relied on coming up with your own spells, chants, recipes, etc…by applying knowledge taken from other authors, witches and most importantly your own spell work. His “Tradition” would be one heavily influenced by the idea of religious freedom in Wicca, which is the basis for America itself. Which could be interpreted as a play on Aleister Crowley’s infamous quote “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law”.

I’m not sure what Scott would have continued, finished or accomplished if he was still here today, but I know it would have been amazing! From all of the research, reading and studying I have done on him, I am confident in saying that he was NOT comfortable with a lot of the “traditions” of witchcraft that preach uniformity in the sense that you have to have this particular book, this candle or this oil, in order to properly perform magic. Even though he revered and respected his pagan friends that choose to go the coven route, Scott himself never felt comfortable in any formal setting of ritual work. In a book by David Harrington entitled “Whispers of the Moon: The Life and Work of Scott Cunningham”, it is often stated that Scott joined several covens and formal magical paths, but always ended up going back to being a solitary practitioner. Scott said to his friends that he always felt more at home being a solitary witch. He was a rebel of sorts in that he took Wicca out of the living room and back to where it belongs, in nature.

My blog is a tiny corner of the world where I can express myself, my craft and my ideas that have all been heavily influenced by Scott Cunningham’s life and work. If Scott Cunningham did create a tradition, even by accident, I am following it by being a living product of his message. You don’t have to have fancy ritual items, or a high-priestess degree to worship the Goddess and perform magic. You don’t have to know and memorize every tiny aspect of the Wiccan religion to be a follower of the Goddess. As Scott believed and always wrote, all you need to contact the divine is an open heart, an open mind and the will that lies within.

Group or Solitary: Which Is Best For You?

Group or Solitary: Which Is Best For You?

Author: Bronwen Forbes

One of the biggest and most important decisions you will make as a newcomer to the Pagan path is whether to join an existing group of like-minded practitioners or go it on your own as a solitary. Of course, there will be other big decisions to make later but they are all dependent upon what you choose to do now.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that I am a big advocate of finding others who a) are further along the path than you and learning all you can from them and b) are folks your gut seems to trust (more on this in a future article, I promise) . Why? Let me give you an example.

At one time my group’s holiday rituals were open to any Pagans in the area who chose to attend (if they told us they were coming in advance) . Since our group was the only one and the first one in the area for some time, we attracted a lot of people who hadn’t ever been in ritual with other Pagans, even though they’d been solitaries for years.

A solitary came to one of our rituals, speaking to anyone who would listen about her “astral fiancé.” Apparently she’d met a man on the astral plane – but never in real life – and they planned to marry just as soon as she moved to Ireland and figured out which one of several million Irishmen he was. To further hinder her search, she didn’t know what his name was. At some point in the ritual they apparently got “married” (it was Beltane, after all!) because by the end of the evening she was referring to her “astral husband.” As an occasional writer of fiction, I wish I could make up stuff this good!

Does the idea of an anonymous “astral fiancé” sound a little farfetched? It sure did to us – especially when she quit her job, moved to Ireland, and (no surprise) never found him. Last we heard she was back in the States, flat broke, and living out of her car. If this woman had had some basic non-book training and/or regular contact with a group at the beginning of her Pagan studies, she’d have known better than to delude herself to the point of homelessness.

I’m not saying that every solitary Pagan is going to end up doing something profoundly stupid, spiritually-speaking, and end up living in a car, but just as you turn to a more experienced roadster when you’re learning how to drive that car, it makes just as much sense to find someone – preferably several someones – when you’re learning the Pagan basics. The book you study in order to pass the written driver’s test is good for learning the rules of the road, but you’re not going to get your license without a lot of supervised, hands-on experience. So it is with Paganism.

On the other hand, there are times and places and personalities that are better suited for solitary work. Perhaps you live too far away from the nearest group to make regular travel for rituals and classes impossible. Or maybe the local coven or grove sets off your “icky alarm” and you’d prefer to never be in their presence again, thank you very much. Or maybe your work life is too hectic and home life is too full of the needs of small children to be able to make a commitment to a group’s calendar.

Or maybe, just maybe, you are more suited to a spiritual life of quiet, private observance and contemplation and will, in fact, go farther on your Pagan path if you travel alone. I’ve met some fine people in my life for whom this is the case; I admire their personal dedication even though I can’t emulate it.

If it’s just my husband, my child and I in the house on a holiday or full moon, we’re not likely to have a formal ritual – much like my widowed mother-in-law who will cook up a storm if a few of her children or grandchildren are expected for dinner but “just can’t be bothered” to cook if she’s just feeding herself.

So how do you know if you’re more suited for a group or a solitary practice? Ask yourself the following questions. Your answers should tell you what decision you need to make to better your chances of a satisfying spiritual future.

Is there a group nearby that I like and trust? If the answers are “yes” (Yes there is a group, yes it is nearby, yes I like them, and yes I trust them) , and they have space for you, by all means petition to join. However, if there is even one “no” (There’s a group nearby but I don’t like them and wouldn’t trust them to teach me how to walk my dog, much less take an active role in my spiritual development) , you’re much better off on your own.

Do I have the personal discipline to actively practice on my own? I freely admit that I do not. I need to commit to a group and the group calendar to actively, integrally observe even the basic holidays and moon phases. And that’s okay – I’m not the only one!

However, if you can – or would even prefer to – make a personal commitment to make small observances to the Gods at this time every day (or week, or holiday) and know you’ll keep that commitment, then I say good for you! You have at least some of what it takes to be a solitary.

Am I willing to ask for help or a reality check from time to time? I don’t think it ever occurred to our above-mentioned Beltane guest to ask anyone online or in person if she was deluding herself or if her astral experiences were real. When my husband was first starting to study Paganism, he made a point of seeking out community elders and experienced practitioners at local Pagan festivals and asking them questions. Even though these good folk weren’t his formal teachers, they were more than happy to answer him.

If you join a group, your High Priest or High Priestess will provide help and reality checks – that’s their job. If you choose to go solitary, you should consider attending a nearby gathering, Pagan Pride Day, or workshop at a Pagan store once in a while just to touch base with the rest of the community. I’d hate for you to drop everything and move to Ireland if it’s all in your head.

Ultimately, only you can choose whether to join a group or strike out on your own at the beginning of your Pagan life. Only you know your geographical, work, family, and personal circumstances that will all factor into the decision.

Whichever way you choose, I wish you all the best. In some ways, we are all alone – the Path is different for each person who walks it; in other ways we are all part of this wonderful, awe-inspiring, sprawling Pagan community.

Spell – A- Day – Wisdom of our Ancestors

Spell – A- Day – Wisdom of our Ancestors

You can find guidance to deal with difficult situations by
accessing the wisdom of our ancestors. To do so, write out your perception of the situation on a piece of paper.
Light white, black, and red candles, and cut an apple crosswise to reveal the five-pointed star created by the seeds.
State these or similar words:
I send my voice across the veil
To my ancestors who know me well.
Guidance needed,
Wisdom bequest;
Answers given to aid my quest.
Quiet your mind, and receive guidance. It may arrive immediately or over several days. Thank your ancestors,
and offer the apple to them.
By: Karen Follett

Crone’s Corner – WILDCRAFTING


November brings on thoughts of mushroom hunting, gathering walnuts and digging medicinal roots. In my wandering

along the creek and surrounding areas, I have located two walnut trees. The nuts are easy to gather but it
will take some time to clean off the black outer casing. I soak the nuts for a short time and then begin scrubbing with a stiff
brush. You don’t want to soak walnuts for a long time as water will absorb through the shells and possibly spoil the meat inside.
I dry them thoroughly in a mesh bag (such as onions come in) by the woodstove. Walnuts are a good source of protein and
shelling them can be a great family pastime.

Digging up medicinal roots such as Echinacea and Oregon Grape is best done in the fall after the plants are dormant. Echinacea
is grown in the garden. The root systems are somewhat fine though they can be rather large in older plants. It’s best to
harvest plants that are 3 years old as they have reached their maximum potency. Clean the dirt off thoroughly then layer loosely
on paper in an open box to dry or you can chop them into small pieces, put in a jar, and cover with 100 proof Vodka to make your
own tincture. Keep covered and shake daily for 2-3 weeks. Then strain and save for use.

Oregon Grape is an evergreen shrub that grows very prolifically and is quite common. It’s coarse red and green leaves are very
similar to Holly and I have used them in Christmas greenery displays. Oregon Grape’s medicinal qualities are much the same
as Goldenseal and can be substituted as such. Wild Goldenseal is becoming increasingly hard to find and becoming an endangered species so using Oregon Grape instead can help to let the species repopulate.

Oregon Grape’s roots are very woody. I suggest you use it right away. Long ago I harvested some, dried it and stored it away.
They became rock hard pieces of wood. Use Oregon Grape the same as you would Goldenseal, for infections, as a blood purifier,
liver conditions, and skin diseases.

Both Echinacea and Oregon Grape can be grown and harvested as cash crops.

By Tony Frohnauer (c)2002

Feng Shui Tip of the Day for November 28th

I know you might think that I would offer some sort of prosperity cure on ‘Cyber Monday,’ a day that encourages online holiday shopping. But when I think ‘cyber’ I think computer, and that’s where I’m investing my efforts today. Feng Shui says that hanging a clear quartz round and faceted crystal ball (with a red ribbon, in a multiple of nine inches or longer) will not only create an overall benefit for your profession and career, but will also protect you from any sort of attack, cyber-related or not. This adjustment also aids in stimulating an expansion of your inspirations and ideas, including clearer, uncluttered thinking, better decision-making and a brighter outlook for your future. As if all of those attributes aren’t enough, the crystal also keeps the computer safe from breaking down or any other harm. With all that said, how you should spend your ‘Cyber Monday’ is crystal clear to me.

By Ellen Whitehurst for

Your Daily Number for November 28th: 1

Today is hectic, and it may be necessary for you to make quick decisions and put your leadership skills into action. Your senses are alert. Sounds, colors, and texture are strongly experienced.

Fast Facts

About the Number 1

Theme: Masculine, Creative, Independent, Aggressive
Astro Association: Mercury
Tarot Association: Magician

Today’s I Ching Hexagram for November 28th is 5: Patience

5: Patience

Hexagram 5

General Meaning: A fisherman can cast the line, but he can only wait for the fish to bite. Your catch will come in its own time; you cannot make it hurry to you — neither by working, nor by planning, nor by wishing. You may need to provide nourishment or support for others; but only through patience can you become the bridge between the fickle fish and the eventual feast. Strength in a time of trial waits quietly, resolutely. Weakness grows agitated, and abandons the effort before the fish bites. Periods of waiting are most fruitful when used for quiet contemplation.

Proceed cautiously, but resolutely, with whatever you are doing. The time and situation are calling for consistency and patience. Waiting is an essential skill; patience is a powerful force. Good timing is an ally of those with inner strength — the kind of strength that allows you to be uncompromisingly honest with yourself, while sticking to the path you have charted. If you persevere with a positive attitude, time weakens even the hardest obstacles. To rush anything, or impatiently force results, stimulates resistance and causes setbacks. At best, you achieve surface changes — the kind that can just as quickly be reversed. Steadfast waiting — while holding to your integrity leads to slow but permanent improvements. In the end, you accomplish something great. Practice patience.

Today’s Runes for November 28th is MAN

Today’s Runes

Ice Runes are most commonly used for questions about struggle, conflict, and achievement. Man represents Mankind. This rune evokes the image that although we must make much of our way in the world on our own, there is nevertheless an entire populous that shares similar experiences. Thus, this rune represents the relationship of the self with the whole – working together we can produce great results. Additionally, Man speaks to intellect and culture that separate us from the animals.