The Mysteries and Esoteric Witchcraft

The Mysteries and Esoteric Witchcraft

Author:   Rhys Chisnall   
 

“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. He to whom the emotion is a stranger: whom no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms- this knowledge, this feeling, is at the centre of true religion.” – Albert Einstein

One of the hardest aspects of the esoteric initiatory Witchcraft to write about, or even communicate, is its strong mystery aspect. Yet, in my opinion, it is one of the most important things that distinguish it from New Age and Popular Wicca/Witchcraft. By its very nature the mystical aspects of Witchcraft are a thoroughly subjective experience and as such any cursory and brief exploration such as this article or any other in print are going to be subjective and inadequate.

“Second hand mysticism has generally an unsatisfactory experience, since if these notions are not the driving force of our life, are not the pulse beat of our heart or are not personally integrated into our whole, then they are empty gestures. Then they are devoid of meaning similar to reading a literary criticism rather than reading the poem itself. The mystical experience is immediate not vicarious or deputed” (Armstrong 1999)

The mysteries need to be experienced, and they cannot be explained in everyday language, hence the need for the metaphors of myth and the communication of the experiences through the metaphors of symbols and ritual. The religious commentator, theologian and mystic Karen Armstrong said that.

“There is a linguistic connection between the three words, myth, mysticism and mystery. All derive from the Greek verb musterion: to close the eyes or the mouth”. (Armstrong 1999)

There are many roads to the mysteries and the mystical experience. As Prof Joseph Campbell (the late expert in comparative mythology) quotes from the Rig Veda, “Truth is one, but the sages speak of it by many names.” He also tells the story of an interfaith conference set up between Shinto and Catholicism. He was struck at how the priests of Catholicism and Shinto found it difficult to find a commonality or a common religious language to communicate with each other, but the monks and nuns of each religion could. This was because the priests were concerned with holding up their metaphors, their myths, symbols and rituals as ends in themselves, whereas the monks and nuns had moved beyond the metaphors to the experience of the sacred and the divine itself. They were not stuck with believing that the metaphors were the reality and the end goal. They had gone past the virgin birth, the resurrection, and even God, to find a community in the mysteries and mystical experience that were shared by their Shinto counterparts. As Campbell said, “Religion is misinterpreted myth”

The Armenian-Greek esoteric philosopher and practitioner G. I. Gurdjieff suggested that there were four paths to the mysteries. The first three, the way of the fakir, the way of the yogi (nothing to do with picnic baskets) and the way of the monk are mostly eastern ways to experience the mysteries and represent the three disciplines of the mind, the body and contemplation. These three paths are typical of the Eastern Mystery tradition in that they all involve a withdrawal from society and the world.

The fourth way is ‘the way of the hearth’. It is the way of the Western Mystery Tradition of which esoteric initiatory Witchcraft along with Hermeticism, Qabbalah, mystical Christianity and Sufism are parts. It is the way of being fully integrated with the world, identifying with the universe and with life and not attempting to escape from it (with the notable exception of Gnosticism) . It is seeing no separation between humanity, nature and the divine.

To my mind esoteric initiatory Witchcraft liturgy and ritual are full of mystical language, myth and metaphor. For example within Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witchcraft there are phrases such as, “there is no part of us that is not of the god.” And of course the classic mysteries phrase of the Charge of the Goddess, “If that which thou seeketh, thou findest not within thee, you will never find it without thee.” These and other parts of Witchcraft ritual (not to mention many of the techniques used in ritual to help induce these kinds of states of mind) , strongly suggest the mysteries and mystical experience. The myths of esoteric initiatory Witchcraft point to the internal experience of the mysteries within the individual Witch, relating them to the cosmos, designed to take us beyond mere religion to the direct experience of numinous, divinity and the sacred. The systems, techniques and processes of esoteric Craft, to my mind, seem designed to take us beyond ourselves, and the sum of the parts of the tradition itself, into personal transformation and a new awareness.

So what are mysticism and the mysteries? According to the psychologist Lawrence Le Shan, “Mysticism from a historical and psychological viewpoint, is the search for and experience of the relationship of the individual himself (herself) and the totality that makes up the universe.” (LeShan 1974)

Karen Armstrong agrees when she writes, “Mystics have long claimed that he [God] is a subjective experience, mysteriously experienced in the ‘Ground of Being’…………..they claim that he did not really exist and it is better to call him No-thing”. (Armstrong 1999)

As such the mysteries go way beyond the dogmas, metaphors and systems that have been inspired by them. The techniques and participating within the metaphors of myth, relating it to the self and personal transformation give the practitioner a direct and vivid experience of a unity with a ‘different order of reality’, or perhaps, an expanded order of reality of which they are a part- unified with. They experience eternity within a second, being and non-being, beauty and horror but with no contradiction, no duality, no difference between sacred and profane. In essence the experience is indescribable expect through the language of metaphor, which sadly is mistaken for reality and an end in itself. The effect of these experiences is an inner alchemy, personal transformation- life and indeed you are never the same again.

Campbell hints at this when he says, “But the ultimate mystical goal is to be united with one’s god. With that the duality is transcended and forms disappear. There is nobody there, no god, no you. Your mind, going past all concepts, has dissolved in identification with the ground of your being”. (Campbell 1988)

Now sadly for the bit that people don’t like. The path to the mysteries is not an easy one. Rather it is one that requires hard work, commitment and dedication; it is not for people looking for instant results or an escape from reality. The starting point on the road to the mysteries and esoteric Witchcraft has got to be that of a coping adult, as Joanne Pearson reports in her essay Assumed Affinities (the difference between Initiatory Wicca- specifically Gardnerian and Alexandrian- and New Age spiritualities) .

“In the questionnaire, mentioned at the start of this chapter, none of the hundred (Gardnerian/Alexandrian) Wiccans who responded indicated that they had become involved in Wicca because ‘their life was not working’, and supplementary fieldwork does not indicate that these Wiccans assume there lives or the lives of other Wiccans are, or were Dysfunctional.” (Pearson 1998)

The Witch Dr. Dave Bracey confirms the difficulties and hard work of pursuing the mysteries when he says, “The mysteries are not easy to apprehend. It requires long training, usually with a spiritual guide or facilitator, and a considerable investment of time. This is not something that has much appeal to many in our present day society, conditioned as it is with fast cars, fast food, fast solutions and instant gratification and speedy communication. The mysteries do not arrive ready made and pre-packaged. They cannot be experienced as quickly as the instant high of the new age. But neither does the (esoteric initiatory) Witch’s ‘awareness’ wane, as does the let-down that so often eventuates when the newness of the ‘reborn’ convert fades to be left with the forms and structures of religion which so often become ends in themselves.” (Bracey 2001)

Like much else in life things that are of value are often thing that require a lot of hard work. Saying that though, there are circumstances where mystical experience arises quite spontaneously in some people. This may be down to horrific or beautiful situations, which invoke tremendously strong emotions within individuals that lead them to having an experience of the mysteries.

I am sure that there are many, many people who are perfectly happy practising their religion of non-initiatory exoteric Wicca and Witchcraft and good luck to them, each to their own. I am sure that people get a great deal of spiritual fulfillment from them. So just to reiterate so there is no confusion, esoteric initiatory Witchcraft is not better than New Age and Popular Wicca. It is just different, with different aims, philosophies and purposes and practices. So if the mysteries are not for you, then please feel free to ignore this article, remember that this is only one way and there are many others.

I shall finish with another quote from Dr. Bracey as he talks about the relationship between the mysteries and Craft. “So the mysteries are not for all, but is the way of (esoteric initiatory) Witches. We who ride beyond the ordinary, rejecting the supernatural in favour of the supra-natural, and who are aware of the relationship of the part to the whole.” (Bracey 2001)

____________________________________

Footnotes:
Campbell, J, (1988) , ‘The Power of Myth’, Doubleday
Campbell, J, (1959) , ‘The Mask of God (Primitive mythology, Oriental Mythology, Occidental Mythology and Creative Mythology) ’, Condor
Campbell, J, (1949) , ‘The Hero with a Thousand faces’, Princetown University Press
Campbell, J, (2001) , ‘Thou art that, transforming religious metaphors’, Joseph Cambell Foundation
Campbell, J, (2004) , ‘Pathways to Bliss, Mythology and Personal Transformation’, Joseph Campbell Foundation
Crowley, V, (1989) , ’ Wicca the old Religion in the New Age’, Aquarian Press
Armstrong, K, (1999) , ’ A History of God’, Vintage
Armstrong, K, (2005) , ‘A Short History of Myth’, Cannongate
Pearosn, J, Roberts, R, Samuel, G, (1998) , ‘Nature Religion Today’, Edinburgh University Press
Pearson, J, (2007) , ‘Wicca and the Christian Heritage (Ritual, Sex and magic) , Routledge
Fortune, D, (1935) , ‘The Mystical Qabalah’, Aquarian
Hutton, R, (2003) , ‘Witches, Druids, and King Arthur, Oxford University Press
Heselton, P, (1995) , ‘Secret Places of the Goddess’, Capal Ban
Underhill, E, (1993) , ‘Mysticism’, Oneworld
Lamond, F, (1997) , ‘Religion without Beliefs’, Janus
Lamond, F, (2004) , ‘Fifty Years of Wicca’, Green magic
LeShan, L, (1974) , ‘How to Meditate’, Turnstone
Bracey, D, (2001) , ‘A Personal View of God’, TNW

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View From My Side of the Broomstick

View From My Side of the Broomstick

Author:   Keyokwee   

I am always amazed and enlightened by the differing views that we all take away from our encounters with each other and Mother Nature herself. We can choose to look at ritual performed in the moonlight in the nude, as a powerful statement, a beautiful sign that there is nothing between yourself and Goddess, or simply cover up. But the choice is yours to do so and no less is thought of you if you choose not to do so.

Also since I am a Crone, I can truly savor a wicked sense of humor when it is delivered with justice! My husband, while pagan, does not go for the “foo-fer-all” of rituals instead preferring to sit on the sidelines and watch (usually mildly amused) . But he does understand and accepts me, as I am when I do my thing.

Now in the Crone aspect of life, I can truly respect Hecate. I am constantly amazed by what she can teach me, including and especially, in preparation for the unexpected in life. And since I’m mainly Irish, Hecate likes to throw a twist of the Murphy’s into my life, to keep me on my toes, and to gently remind me to cover my bases before throwing myself enthusiastically into my worship.

I’m reminded that I must approach Her with extreme caution and Wisdom because she will deliver a lesson that you’re sure never to forget. As Hecate is kind of like the Goddess of the Crones, she respects the fact that one is a Crone and allows some leeway for it. But in my case, She delights in delivering her lessons with a ruthless sense of humor. Case in point…

My husband and I live in a very rural part of Northern CA, and we like our privacy. It’s wonderful to have such freedom with no neighbors in sight. We have an above ground pool that is well used during the summer and we feel we can safely skinny-dip in the pool or pretty much walk au-natural around our house. (Polite people call before barging in!) And I feel quite comfortable in my own skin. So when my younger neighbor topped the hill after crossing the front pasture…I think that he pretty much got what he deserved!

It was a typical end to a very hot day. My husband I took advantage of the near darkness to dip into the delicious coolness of our pool and then climbed out to sit at our patio table. Each had our beverage of choice in hand. Mine was wine; his was beer. We were both caught up in the magic of the stars starting to twinkle overhead and the crickets and tree frogs were starting to turn up the volume on their nightly serenade.

There is something seductive about this time of the evening, especially when you are pagan. It’s one of the two times during the day that light meets dark and embraces. So we have come to expect that anything to happen.

I started humming and swaying and dancing around, caught up in the moment and had just raised my glass in a salute to the Goddess when the applications of Nature were driven home. The ensuing chain of events was a lesson to us all.

For it was at that time that our neighbor chose to walk over the top of the hill. But was that the end of it? Oh! Heck No!

Throw in the Murphy’s Law Applications: One Reubenesque Crone. Darkness falling. A salute to the Goddess with a glassful of wine. A gopher hole. And nine billion mosquitoes that all saw my 40 axe-handle butt shining with more lumens than a full moon reflected in an amusement park Hall of Mirrors!

You can see where this is going, can’t ya?

I was a mosquito posse’s dream come true served up on a smorgasbord! It was truly a sight to behold: A Gen-U-ine Kodak moment! I swear that I heard cackling a split second before everything converged at once. My neighbor got a free shot (Or so he thought) of a fat, drunk, naked middle aged lady who spilled her wine while flailing her arms around, waving at him!

I bet that was a little bit too much information! But on the flip side, I’m a crone and I can appreciate the warped sense of Her dark humor served up with a liberal dose of Justice and Common Sense!

The seductive song of a warm summer’s night was disturbed by the unexpected appearance of a fool! There’s a reason why I am a solitary. May your mind be seared by the shocking sight of a Crone moments before her just desserts are served in Spades! I’m no Barbie Doll, honey…this is the real stuff at 54-gravity served up on steroids!

Well that poor kid must have thought that his eyes and brain just sucked a big one on the un-sweetened Lemon of Truth because the ensuing retreat was felt on the local Richter scale.

And what desserts are those, ya almost forgot to ask?

Never think that you can get away with just a toast. Share or She’ll take it all! And if you toast Her, come with just a little wisdom and be prepared to use some common sense. Burn the incense of citronella or ‘Off ‘coils.

(Friends and neighbors, please call first. That’s the polite thing to do!)

And to the fool drinking the beer: Keep your mouth shut! Never again wince and look at your bottle and say, ”That’s going to leave a mark!” to the retreating form of your neighbor’s back.

In the blink of an eye that song of that summer night was drowned out and replaced by the high pitched whine of the incoming going to Glory! The mosquitoes were everywhere! I quickly started flailing about inside the midst of that cloud, stepped in the gopher hole in the process, and flung my last glass of wine out to the grass.

I left three-quarters of the cloud of mosquitoes there to deal with Mr. Naked Big-Mouth while I hastily retreated to spray myself with ‘Off’. The other quarter of them followed me into the house where they fed on his sorry carcass for the rest of the night because he refused to spray himself down!

So what marks is your sorry butt referring to now? The ones left in the mind of our neighbor, or the ones on your backside? Or on mine. Even my hills and valleys now have hills and valleys. (And have you folks ever sprayed yourself with Off after scratching yourself? There’s a real in-the-now reminder! Humph!)

I still swear I hear Her cackling and snapping Her fingers saying, “ YES! The Goddess is in the house!”

Peace and Blessings, Honey

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Walking The Path As A Public Witch

Walking The Path As A Public Witch

Author:   Medea  

I am a ‘public Witch’. The phrase means different things to different people but generally it means I am one who has come ‘out of the broom closet’. That has come to mean different things to me as the years have gone by.

I never was really in the ‘broom closet’. From the time I was introduced to The Craft by way of The Tarot at age eighteen, I was very open about it. Sometimes the openness was just for ‘shock value’. Sometimes it was just to be ‘different’. More often than not my openness was just a part of my personality. Like a puppy, I gleefully and playfully was just ‘me’ all over the place.

Now, at the age of forty-seven (can I really be that old?) and High Priestess in my tradition, I am still open about it, yet in very different ways. I rarely go for ‘shock value’ anymore (there are, however, those occasions when I cannot seem to help myself) . I have been a professional Nurse for twenty plus years and have learned in some instances the less said, the better. This learned, of course, the hard way. In many, many areas of my life I am much more tolerant and not so quick to take offense. I cannot attribute this to age or wisdom, as in many ways I am very immature and like it that way. It is a by-product of the path in which I have chosen to walk. One of the many, many gifts I receive.

I no longer feel the need to flash a Pentacle ring or necklace every chance I get. Most jewelry associated with the Craft and my religion are worn in private or under my clothes, close to my heart, as they should be. Yet, if I choose to wear such things in public (or forget to take them off) I make no effort to hide them, give no explanations, and make no apologies. My car is no longer adorned with bumper stickers proclaiming me ‘Witch’ or ‘Happy Heathen’. I didn’t take them off, but simply quit feeling the need to replace them each time I had to replace a vehicle. Yet I would not refrain from putting one on my bumper if it caught my fancy.

These days when I find it necessary or appropriate to speak of the Divine in general company I am as apt to say ‘God’ as ‘Goddess’ or ‘The Gods’. I have seen that getting caught up in nomenclature or schematics lessons somehow the sacredness of what one speaks of. If I am asked what Church I go to (a common question here in the South) I tell them. I don’t use flowery or holier- than -thou phrases such as ‘Nature is my Church’.

I say I am Pagan, if need be I say I am ‘Witch’, but more than that, I say I am a person of faith. And in some eyes I see the flash of recognition and in others I see distrust and incomprehension. These things no longer bother me. I am not meant to crusade. Neither am I, or my life, meant to be perfect. I can lapse in my old ways from time to time without being ‘lost’. I can make mistakes.

These days my Pentacle hangs on the lamppost in my yard. It hangs there for protection of my home and property as well as a nod to The Craft. It matters not who sees it and who does not. My home is Pagan and I call it a Temple House. It is where our rituals are mostly held. Where our classes are held. Where I sit and work on my computer on things that are important to the Temple. It is filled with altars which range from very simple to elaborate. Like all things, they change as they should, and I understand one does not need the trappings of religion to walk one’s faith. The house is lived in. It is welcoming to The Gods and Spirits I call, to my blood family and my Temple family and to visitors who come and go. It is meant to be welcoming to visitors of all faith and I believe for the most part it is. It is a work in progress, like the Temple itself. Like all things which grow and change. Like me.

I returned to the place I was born and raised after a twenty-year hiatus. It is a rural area in the Wilds of Tennessee, deep in the Bible Belt. It is a wonderful and beautiful place and the people are wonderful and beautiful too. Yet suspicions and prejudices linger along side traditions that smack of the Old Religion. I am known as a Witch and there is no mistake I am ‘the Real Thing’. At first I was humored, seen as a local girl who went ‘Out West’ and got some very strange ideas. There is often surprise when it is learned I was first introduced to the Craft in good ol’ Nashville, Tennessee. But here in the Wilds, Nashville, too, is a long way and there are many strange ideas to be found there. Maybe not as strange as ‘Out West’, but still strange.

When the realization came that this is not a passing fad for me, and that not only did I practice what I believed but ‘preached’ what I practiced the attitudes began to change. Family members and childhood friends, some I loved dearly and had missed for a long time, began to avoid me. Their attempts to ‘save my soul’ fell on deaf ears, and I took offense to being prayed for in Churches that I would ‘find my way and be saved’. They could not convert me, could not understand when I asked ‘saved from what?’ or said ‘I’m already saved’. And so I became a lost cause and to some a threat. There is no brand of persecution as scorching as that of those we know and love. My invitations to my home were unanswered by some. It became clear there were homes in which I was no longer welcome.

The Goddess does not demand sacrifice though at times it may seem so. I eventually came to understand that in order to have the things I found important in my life there were some things that by nature had to go. There is always grief, but as all things it passes and is, if not understood, accepted.

There were those who came and went. And there are those who stayed. Rituals of one became rituals of two and then three and then as many as fifteen at any given time. Others want card readings or advice or a little magick to ‘help out a situation’. Sometimes they are open about it and do not care who knows or what is thought of their association with me. Sometimes they come on the sly. I have learned to recognize those who come for a reason, such as the Goddess may have, and those who want what I can give and firmly believe me to be going to a Christian hell. There are those who do not care what becomes of me, but care about what it is I can do. Sometimes I still grow angry, usually out of hurt from the fall of one who I may have at some point respected. Mostly I do what I feel to be right and it has become very easy.

Inevitably the question will come from somewhere: ‘How did you get into that?’ that, of course, being Paganism or Witchcraft and sometimes thinly veiled ‘in league with The Devil’. I no longer feel the need to explain how Christianity never ‘felt right’ for me, implying of course I was somehow superior to that particular belief. These days I usually shrug and say ‘Like anyone of faith, I was called to it.’ This leaves little to argue about.

In my tradition today we celebrate Lenaia at the time of Imbolc, yet like so many things, the lines are blurred and the messages are the same. This Imbolc season I find myself taking stock and reflecting on many things about my life and the Path I walk. They, this life and this path, have somewhere along the line become one and the same. Perhaps it is the knowledge of having achieved this very thing, without setting out to do so or even hoping that I could, which is causing me to reflect. Perhaps it is my age, and the realization that, though I am not so old, I have most certainly lived longer in this life than I am going to live. It could be the weathering of so many changes over the last several years, some devastating enough to make me question my faith. Having come to terms with myself I have accepted many things I thought I could not. I can do this; accept these things, because at some point I began to trust that my Gods know what they are doing.

In January of 2001, I performed a solitary ritual outside in the yard at the old house my brother and I shared, divorced siblings clinging together in the changes of life. This was many years after I had picked up my first Tarot deck and felt the power of Otherworlds and the promise of mysteries revealed in them. It was cold and the Full Winter Moon rose high in a dark and starless sky. The moon was the color of ecru and its light brightened and dimmed with my incantation and my song. I had felt and witnessed the Power of the presence of the Divine before. I had seen first hand the workings of magick. Yet this was different. It was as if I were tapped on the shoulder. I had the feeling that Someone had finally gotten my attention. She had been waiting patiently for me to notice She wanted my attention. The voice I heard on the Wind, though the night was Windless, was real even though I could not make out the words. It was as if there was one voice, no, a thousand voices, and though the words were unintelligible I knew they said ‘Follow Me’.

I did not call the God and Goddess by name then, a last holdout of my Pentecost upbringing. They were to me The Lord and Lady. Yet I knew there were names, many names, and I would come to know Them. Although I became a Priestess of Hekate, it was Diana, the Huntress Mother, who called to me that night. I now know Her feel and Her smell and I recognize Her voice. When I hear Her name mentioned I see in my mind’s eye the silver disk floating in the Winter Sky. I often thank Her for calling me.

It wasn’t long after that I held my first private Imbolc ritual, as I have ever since, as I will continue to do. The day was sunny, bright, and cold. The kind of day that often depressed me. With stick incense in hand (patchouli because that is all I had) and the instructions from Scott Cunningham’s ‘Wicca’ in my head I picked my way through the thickets behind our rental house. I found a clearing and sat down, my nose running and the frozen ground pressing against my too thin pants for the weather. I meditated in silence, one thing I was only beginning to get good at. I sat there a long while, sometimes registering the sound of small animals in the thickets. Somehow understanding the sounds of the animals were gifts. I then told the Gods the things I have told them many times since:

I am Your daughter and Your lover. I give myself to You in this life and in any others to come. Set my feet upon the path You wish for me. Teach me the things I need to know. Give me the strength to learn them. I honor You and I love You. So Mote it be.

I meant those words the day I said them. And many times after, even as I wondered how hard this life has to get. I mean them now. The Gods listened and they knew I meant them and they have granted me the very things I asked for.

I love this life. It is at times messy and ugly, often chaotic, and on occasion extremely painful. It is equally interesting, comforting, and fun. And so there is balance. And so I am very, very blessed.

I love being Pagan. It is a wonderful thing to know what one’s path is and to be allowed to walk it. The Buddhist say ‘do the dishes for the sake of doing the dishes’. The clean dishes are only a result of doing the dishes correctly and wholeheartedly. Clean dishes are not the goal, doing the task well is the goal, everything else is, well, gravy. They say the same about the journey we call life. The journey is the point, the destination only the result of taking the journey well and wholeheartedly. Take the journey for the sake of taking the journey, walk the path for the sake of walking the path. Every now and then cast your eyes to the top of the mountain for a moment, but only a moment, focus on your goal, reassess your progress, make the proper adjustments, and get back to the task at hand.

In giving true love for the sake of giving true love, I have been given the truest of love. In giving friendship for the sake of giving friendship, I have received friendship. In being faithful for the sake of being faithful, I am given faithfulness. In giving mercy and kindness and justice for the sake of giving mercy and kindness and justice, I have received mercy and kindness and justice far beyond that I ever expected. In teaching the things I know for the sake of teaching the things I know I have been taught. And such fine teachers I have.

I walk the Pagan Path and the Path of the Priestess (and yes, Witch) for many reasons but mainly because it is my journey, what is put before me to do. It is an awesome task, an honor, and a door to many fleeting moments of happiness, which add up to a joyful life when all is said and done. Sometimes this path of mine is walked on nothing but faith because all else seems to elude me. Yet that which eludes me becomes mine if it is meant to be, and though I question and rail against the way, I am committed.

Along the way I catch the most peaceful sunrises, beautiful sunsets, healing breezes, and mighty storms. I am taught humility; I am reprimanded, led gently back when astray, and kicked hard when I need it. I am loved unconditionally and I know this without a doubt. I neither fear Death nor look for it, waiting for the rewards that I think might be my due. My rewards are many, and they are now. I may at times dread the act of dying and wonder if I will be granted a merciful death or if suffering at the end of this life is part of my lesson and task. Yet I trust that I will have what is needed for me and what is in the end the best. And I will not make that journey alone.

Those who have gone before will welcome me. The Gods will guide me and the Lady Hekate will walk with me as She always has. Cunningham pointed out that there is a difference in believing in something and knowing something. Many of the things I thought I believed I have come to know. To know a thing to be true is to accept it without having to understand it. There are many things I do understand and many things I will someday understand. But knowing, that is something that is not given lightly. It cannot be earned or bought; it can only come from walking the journey and walking it with an open heart and a willing soul.

I am one of many who aid this Phoenix we call Paganism to rise. My voice is among the silent ones who roar their presence into this world in this time. Our books and our Temples were burned and like so many things, though the way could have been easier, it had to be. Our Temples stand in our hearts and in our souls, in our country homes, and our suburban yards, in our small apartments in sprawling cities. This wonderful thing we call the Internet weaves us together across many, many miles. We have new books with words from Powerful hearts. We have remnants from the past which survive and which are important yet unimportant and therefore kept in perspective. We have the new and the old in which to learn and to build from. Balance. As it should be.

I am parched with thirst, and perishing,
But drink of me, the ever-flowing spring on the right (where) there is a fair cypress.
Who are you? Where are you from?
I am a child of Earth and starry Heaven, but my race is of Heaven (alone)
— Orphic Lamella from Thessaly

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What Witchcraft Means To Me

What Witchcraft Means To Me

Author:   allisjames 

So what does witchcraft mean to me? Wow. What a question. Is there an easy answer? No! Witchcraft is beautiful and complicated, mysterious and wonderful. For some it is all about the gods and goddess; for others it is about spell-work and ceremony; and for the rest it is just the flavor-of-the-month religion or practice.

Is Witchcraft a religion, or is it a practice? Is Witchcraft different then Wicca?

Wicca, we know, came into being somewhere between the 1930’s and the 1950’s via Gerard B. Gardner. Yet history blooms with stories of witches, brooms, black cats, and spell-work. People were burned as witches in both England and America. The monotheistic religions had a hard time with anyone who believed in other gods other then their own. Apparently, Jesus dying on a Roman stake was not good enough for the Western church – more blood had to be spelled.

But every society seems to have had some kind of equivalent to the witch. They may have been called Shamans, witch doctors, gypsies, maybe even grandmother herself. Whoever the healers were in society – the psychic, the spiritualist, the herbalists- you had the makings of a witch. And witches were not exactly liked by the church.

Gerard Gardner brought witchcraft back to mainstream society after the last laws banning witchcraft were repelled in England in the 1950’s. He reintroduced ‘The Craft’ to the world with his book ‘Witchcraft Today;’ a book published in 1954.

My initial introduction to the Craft was through a 1960’s TV show called ‘Bewitched, ’ a comedy about an American witch who married a mortal man. Throughout the show we were introduced to covens, rituals, magic, wands, warlocks, Sabbats, and spell-work. Even though a lot of the show was based on false premises (witches being immortal) , the show was on-point with true witchcraft in many ways.

In the 1980’s I came across a book by Erica Jong called ‘Witches.’ This was a coffee table sized book loaded with text, pictures, and poetry explaining Witchcraft. I devoured this book like no other. Erica Jong crafted a very fitting tribute book to a religion she never claimed to be party too. But her involvement in the neo-pagan life style is evident from reading her books and interviews. Erica’s views on sexuality and religion are very close to my own views.

To put it bluntly – I was drawn in.

In 2004 I became a member of Unity Church of Fredericksburg, VA, USA. This church was strong on the Father/Mother God concept, the unity of all things, meditation/yoga, and the divine in all of us. By 2005 I was examining, via the Internet, Wicca or Witchcraft. I started taking a course on Witchcraft through http://www.magickaschool.com. I was also hobnobbing with different witches in the local area where I lived. I did complete one course on the Introduction to Witchcraft through magickaschool.com, and still have a little ways to go on course number two. I am also involved somewhat in the Northern Virginia Witches and Pagans Meetup Group.

After a year of being homeless, I find myself once again drawn to the magick and mystery of this Path. I am reading books on the subject, meditating more, and enjoying the outdoors more. I especially enjoy watching the moon at night going through its many phases. Currently I am reading books by Raymond Buckland and Deborah Lipp. I am also learning The Hidden Path divination cards by Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor, with artwork by Mickie Mueller.

As a pagan/witch/wiccan I am no longer restrained by the shallowness and limitations of the Christian Church. I will put down no religion, but my calling seems to be more metaphysical then revelation based. I believe strongly in the line from the movie ‘Inherit the Wind’ where the defense attorney, played by Spencer Tracey, said regarding the Bible – “The Bible is a good book, but it’s not the only book.”

The path of Witchcraft is an inward path and a mystical path. In a way all spiritually minded people are witches – we all believe in some divine being, we live by some code of law, we believe in the concept of magic/miracles, and we all reach for inner transformation.

I am a Witch because I can be nothing other then a Witch. I can’t twiddle my nose like Samantha in Bewitched and cause magick to happen. It doesn’t work that way. And it’s not about that anyway. Witchcraft is about inner transformation, empowerment, magic, and ultimately LOVE. We love, not by judging and condemning, but by understanding and appreciation. All life is sacred because all life comes from a divine source. That should be the heart and soul of any religious path.

Witchcraft satisfies an inner hunger like nothing else. It is a lifelong study and practice that draws me closer to the god/goddess, keeps me open for all sorts of possibilities, and makes me a channel for light and magick. I feel more at home in this vast universe, and more appreciative of life in general. As I celebrate the Sabbats and esbats, I also celebrate the seasons and learn to adapt to each one. No matter what season, I can follow the moon as it waxes and wanes through each of its cycles.

My spiritual journey began with my introduction and acceptance of the Christian path. But even then I knew there had to be more. And there was: Buddhism, Hinduism, Shamanism, Voodoo, The Golden Dawn, Freemasonry, Gnosticism, and Cabbala, as well as the historical evidence of goddess worship spanning way back into the Old Testament periods.

Witchcraft, in one form or another, has always been here. I embrace it with open arms freely and in sound mind and body. The more I read and study the Craft, the more I am drawn into it. Coming out of the sixties, Witchcraft appeals to me because of its Nature based emphasis, its emphasis on the sacred in everything, its openness to change and its encouragement to grow on whatever Path you are on. Somehow, the idea of celebrating the Goddess out in the openness of nature – singing, chanting, dancing, (skyclad or not) , under an open sky, or under a full moon, appeals to me. Celebrating Nature, and not just theological dogma’s, is what worship is all about.

When I see the full moon in the sky now, I feel like I am walking on sacred ground. The earth is my Cathedral and the Divine is everywhere. I don’t have to worry whether I am theologically sound, or politically correct – it is just me, the goddess, and Mother Nature creating energy and magick through each season, through each rising sun, and through each phase of the moon.

What does it mean to be a Witch? Everything!

So mote it be.

___________________________________

Footnotes:
My personal journey from Christianity to Witchcraft.

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C A N D L E M A S: The Light Returns

C A N D L E M A S:  The Light Returns
=====================================
by Mike Nichols

It seems quite impossible that the holiday of Candlemas should be considered
the beginning of Spring.  Here in the Heartland, February 2nd may see a blanket
of snow mantling the Mother.  Or, if the snows have gone, you may be sure the
days are filled with drizzle, slush, and steel-grey skies — the dreariest
weather of the year.  In short, the perfect time for a Pagan Festival of Lights.
And as for Spring, although this may seem a tenuous beginning, all the little
buds, flowers and leaves will have arrived on schedule before Spring runs its
course to Beltane.

‘Candlemas’ is the Christianized name for the holiday, of course. The older
Pagan names were Imbolc and Oimelc.  ‘Imbolc’ means, literally, ‘in the belly’
(of the Mother).  For in the womb of Mother Earth, hidden from our mundane sight but sensed by a keener vision, there are stirrings.  The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows.  ‘Oimelc’ means ‘milk of ewes’, for it is also lambing season.

The holiday is also called ‘Brigit’s Day’, in honor of the great Irish
Goddess Brigit.  At her shrine, the ancient Irish capitol of Kildare, a group of
19 priestesses (no men allowed) kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor.
She was considered a goddess of fire, patroness of smithcraft, poetry and
healing (especially the healing touch of midwifery).  This tripartite symbolism
was occasionally expressed by saying that Brigit had two sisters, also named
Brigit. (Incidentally, another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is
thus She bestows her special patronage on any woman about to be married or
handfasted, the woman being called ‘bride’ in her honor.)

The Roman Catholic Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess of
Ireland a demon, so they canonized her instead. Henceforth, she would be ‘Saint’
Brigit, patron SAINT of smithcraft, poetry, and healing.  They ‘explained’ this
by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was ‘really’ an early Christian
missionary sent to the Emerald Isle, and that the miracles she performed there
‘misled’ the common people into believing that she was a goddess.  For some
reason, the Irish swallowed this.  (There is no limit to what the Irish
imagination can convince itself of.  For example, they also came to believe that
Brigit was the ‘foster-mother’ of Jesus, giving no thought to the implausibility
of Jesus having spent his boyhood in Ireland!)

Brigit’s holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires, since
she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the
fire of poetic inspiration.  Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and
chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Roman Church was quick to
confiscate this symbolism as well, using ‘Candlemas’ as the day to bless all the
church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year.  (Catholics
will be reminded that the following day, St. Blaise’s Day, is remembered for
using the newly-blessed candles to bless the throats of parishioners, keeping
them from colds, flu, sore throats, etc.)

The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon holiday,
also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  (It is
surprising how many of the old Pagan holidays were converted to Maryan Feasts.)  The symbol of the Purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but it has to do with the old custom of ‘churching women’.  It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth.  And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn’t be purified until February 2nd.  In Pagan symbolism, this might be re-translated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the Young Maiden Goddess.

Today, this holiday is chiefly connected to weather lore.  Even our American
folk-calendar keeps the tradition of ‘Groundhog’s Day’, a day to predict the
coming weather, telling us that if the Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be
‘six more weeks’ of bad weather (i.e., until the next old holiday, Lady Day).
This custom is ancient.  An old British rhyme tells us that ‘If Candlemas Day be
bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.’  Actually, all of the
cross-quarter days can be used as ‘inverse’ weather predictors, whereas the
quarter-days are used as ‘direct’ weather predictors.

Like the other High Holidays or Great Sabbats of the Witches’ year,
Candlemas is sometimes celebrated on it’s alternate date, astrologically
determined by the sun’s reaching 15-degrees Aquarius, or Candlemas Old Style (in 1988, February 3rd, at 9:03 am CST). Another holiday that gets mixed up in this is Valentine’s Day.  Ozark folklorist Vance Randolf makes this quite clear by
noting that the old-timers used to celebrate Groundhog’s Day on February 14th.
This same displacement is evident in Eastern Orthodox Christianity as well.
Their habit of celebrating the birth of Jesus on January 6th, with a similar
post-dated shift in the six-week period that follows it, puts the Feast of the
Purification of Mary on February 14th.  It is amazing to think that the same
confusion and lateral displacement of one of the old folk holidays can be seen
from the Russian steppes to the Ozark hills, but such seems to be the case!

Incidentally, there is speculation among linguistic scholars that the vary
name of ‘Valentine’ has Pagan origins.  It seems that it was customary for
French peasants of the Middle Ages to pronounce a ‘g’ as a ‘v’.  Consequently,
the original term may have been the French ‘galantine’, which yields the English
word ‘gallant’.  The word originally refers to a dashing young man known for his
‘affaires d’amour’, a true galaunt.  The usual associations of V(G)alantine’s
Day make much more sense in this light than their vague connection to a
legendary ‘St. Valentine’ can produce.  Indeed, the Church has always found it
rather difficult to explain this nebulous saint’s connection to the secular
pleasures of flirtation and courtly love.

For modern Witches, Candlemas O.S. may then be seen as the Pagan version of Valentine’s Day, with a de-emphasis of ‘hearts and flowers’ and an appropriate
re-emphasis of Pagan carnal frivolity.  This also re-aligns the holiday with the
ancient Roman Lupercalia, a fertility festival held at this time, in which the
priests of Pan ran through the streets of Rome whacking young women with
goatskin thongs to make them fertile.  The women seemed to enjoy the attention
and often stripped in order to afford better targets.

One of the nicest folk-customs still practiced in many countries, and
especially by Witches in the British Isles and parts of the U.S., is to place a
lighted candle in each and every window of the house, beginning at sundown on
Candlemas Eve (February 1st), allowing them to continue burning until sunrise.
Make sure that such candles are well seated against tipping and guarded from
nearby curtains, etc.  What a cheery sight it is on this cold, bleak and dreary
night to see house after house with candle-lit windows!  And, of course, if you
are your Coven’s chandler, or if you just happen to like making candles,
Candlemas Day is THE day for doing it.  Some Covens hold candle-making parties and try to make and bless all the candles they’ll be using for the whole year on this day.

Other customs of the holiday include weaving ‘Brigit’s crosses’ from straw
or wheat to hang around the house for protection, performing rites of spiritual
cleansing and purification, making ‘Brigit’s beds’ to ensure fertility of mind
and spirit (and body, if desired), and making Crowns of Light (i.e. of candles)
for the High Priestess to wear for the Candlemas Circle, similar to those worn
on St. Lucy’s Day in Scandinavian countries.  All in all, this Pagan Festival of
Lights, sacred to the young Maiden Goddess, is one of the most beautiful and
poetic of the year.

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OIMELC – February 2

OIMELC – February 2

Down with Rosemary and so
Down with baies and mistletoe;
Down with Holly, live and all
Wherewith ys drest the Yuletide Hall;
That so the superstitious find No one least Branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.
–Robert Herrick

Oimelc – Imbolc in the Saxon – marks the first stirring of life in the earth.
The Yule season originally ended at Oimelc. But with increasing organization and industrialization, increasing demands for labor and production, the holiday kept shrinking, first to the two weeks ending at Twelfth Night, then to a single week ending at New Year’s, then to a single day.

Oimelc begins a season of purification similar to that preceding Yule. It ends
at Ostara. No marriages, initiations or puberty rites should be celebrated
between Oimelc and Ostara.

The candles and torches at Oimelc signify the divine life-force awakening
dormant life to new growth.

THEMES

Growth of roots begin again. Bare branches begin to swell with leaf buds, and
growth appears at the tips of evergreen branches. The tools of agriculture are
being make ready for Spring.

Xian feasts of St. Brigid, and Celtic feast of Brigit, the maiden aspect of the
triple goddess and mother of Dagda. Her symbol is the white swan. A Roman feast of Bacchus and Ceres. The Lupercalia, a feast of Pan. The Nephelim or Titans, those offspring of human-divine unions said to have ruled Atlantis.

Grannus, a mysterious Celtic god whom the Romans identified with Apollo.

PURPOSE OF THE RITES

To awaken life in the Earth. Fire tires to strengthen the young Sun, to bring
the fertilizing, purifying, protective and vitalizing influence of fire to the
fields, orchards, domestic animals, and people. To drive away winter. To charm
candles for household use throughout the year.

FOLK CUSTOMS

The three functions of Oimelc – end of Yule, feast of candles or torches, and
beginning of a purificatory season – are divided by the Xian calendar among
Twelfth Night, Candlemas and Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, Carnival). The customs of all three feasts are derived from Oimelc, with at most a thin Xian gloss.

Parades of giant figures (Titans?) in rural towns in France and at Mardi Gras
and Carnival celebrations. A figure representing the Spirit of Winter or Death,
sometime made of straw, sometimes resembling a snowman, is drowned, burnt or in once case, stuffed with fireworks and exploded. They symbol of Montreal’s Winter Carnival is the giant figure of Bonhomme di Neige (snowman).

Groundhog Day, Chinese New Year and St. Valentine’s Day customs.

The French provinces are so rich in Oimelc customs they cannot be listed here.
Refer to “The Golden Bough”.

Wassailing the trees: at midnight, carolers carry a bucket of ale, cider or
lamb’s wool in a torchlight procession through the orchards. The leader dips a
piece of toast in the drink and sedges it in the fork of each tree, with the
traditional cheer (variations exist) of: “Hats full, holes full, barrels full,
and the little heap under the stairs!”.

Who finds the bean in the Twelfth Night cake becomes king of the feast; who
finds the pea becomes queen – never mind the gender of the finders. Rag-bag
finery and gilt-paper crowns identify the king and queen. The rulers give
ridiculous orders to the guests, who must obey their every command. They are
waited on obsequiously, and everything they do is remarked and announced
admiringly and importantly: “The King drinks!”, “The Queen sneezes!” and
everyone politely imitates the ruler’s example.

SYMBOLIC DECORATIONS

Snowdrops are picked for vases, but otherwise no special decorative effects are
indicated. Go carnival, balloons and confetti.

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

Parades, with showers of confetti, gala balls, masks, street dancing, mumming,
winter sports, ice and snow sculpture.

THE RITE

Dress in dark colors with much silver jewelry. Outdoors, after dark on the Even,
have the site arranged with a fire in the cauldron and the altar draped in
white, at the Northeast. The fire may be composed all or in part of Yule greens.

Go in a torchlight procession to the Circle. Include a stamping dance, possibly beating the ground with sticks, before the Invocation. The invocation may end with the calling of Hertha, a Teutonic goddess of the earth and the hearth. Call her name three times and at each call beat on the ground three times with the palms of both hands.

A figure representing Winter should be burned in the fire. Communion may consist of Sabbat Cakes or a Twelfth Night cake (there are many traditional recipes) and cider or wassail. A procession may leave the Circle for a time to wassail a nearby orchard. Couples may leap the bonfire. Supplies of candles brought by the coveners are blessed.

Boys puberty rites may be celebrated. These usually include mock plowing by the boys.

Close the Circle and go indoors for the feast.

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A Little Rhyme That Ties Candlemas/Imbolc to Groundhog’s Day

Imbolc/Candlemas Comments
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
If on Candlemas Day be shower and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.”
Alternately…
“If the sun shines bright on Candlemas Day,
The half of the winter’s not yet away.”

**Author Unknown**

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A Little Humor for Your Day – ‘Tricky Riddles’

Tricky Riddles

A man and a dog were going down the street. The man rode, yet walked. What was the dog’s name? Yet.

A man had two sons and named them both Ed. How come? Two Eds (heads) are better than one.

At what time do most people go to the dentist? At tooth-hurty (2:30).

Can you spell a composition with two letters? SA (essay).

Can you spell a pretty girl with two letters? QT (cutey).

Can you spell soft and slow with two letters? EZ.

Can you spell very happy with three letters? XTC (ecstasy).

Do moths cry? Sure. Haven’t you ever seen a mothball (bawl) ?

How can you prove that a horse has six legs? A horse has four legs (forelegs) in front and two behind.

How can you spell chilly with two letters? IC (icy) .

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