‘THINK on THESE THINGS’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler
There must be a great many persons who have questioned their own wisdom in having fought for a principle. To so many, it seems all they gleaned from it was the title “different”. Isn’t this why so many refuse to stand up for what they believe? We look at them in disbelief, the idea that someone is trying to attract attention. If they are not twitted about their actions they are treated with cold indifference which can be even worse.
It seems that if person have the strength to say they will fight for a certain truth, they must also have the strength to fight alone without depending on those around them to tell them how they should conform. They must not be embarrassed to be counted as unusual in the pursuit of their particular belief.
But the individuals who find themselves alone in the stand they take must remember that if it is truth they are following it will eventually win and at least they can live with themselves. Not everyone can say that.
H. W. Beecher has written, “It is often said it is no matter what a man believes if he is only sincere. But let a man sincerely believe that seed planted without ploughing is as good as with; that January is as favorable for seed-sowing as April; and that cockle seed will produce as good a harvest as wheat, and it is so?”
Sincerity, like trust, must be rooted in those basic truths that are for the good of everyone. If that which we sincerely believe in and live by is truly good, then the results will speak so loudly that all who really want to will see. Until we sincerely want to know good and do good, we will never know it. And until we do, we only half live.
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
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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
Elder’s Meditation of the Day – May 2
“Think only about what is holy. Empty your mind.”
–Archie Fire Lame Deer, LAKOTA
If we let our minds wander, we will come up with a lot of junk: maybe bad thoughts about a brother or sister, maybe angry thoughts, maybe self-pity thoughts. Our minds are not the boss. We can instruct our mind to think about whatever we want to think about. We cannot stop thinking, be we can choose what to think about. The Elders say we move towards what we think about. That’s why they say, “Think about what is holy, think about the Grandfathers, think about culture, think about values, think about ceremonies, and think about good.”
Great Spirit, today, empty my mind and let me experience what it would be like to think about what is holy.
May 2 – Daily Feast
Gramps spoke lovingly of the “fellows” that swam up to the dock where his fishing lines were dropped over the side. He talked to them as though they understood every word – and they took the hook. It is said of the fishermen that never catches anything that he never will. He keeps going but he keeps saying he is not lucky, and his spirit leads him to where there are no fish. He believes in chance, which all people believe when they don’t know their own spirits. Not only does it work this way when he is fishing but in all he tries to do.
~ In order to honor Him I must honor His works in nature. ~
BRAVE BUFFALO – SIOUX
“A Cherokee Feast of Days, Volume II” by Joyce Sequichie Hifler
There are times and circumstances when life offers you serenity. There are many more times when you can offer serenity to life’s circumstances, whatever they are.
Serenity is a powerful, effective state. Serenity enables you to be purposeful, intentional, and focused rather than fearful, anxious and reactionary.
You can choose to hold a powerful, peaceful sense of serenity within, no matter what is going on around you. When you do, that serenity flows outward to great benefit.
Let the constant chattering of your thoughts subside. Release the need for judgment and worry.
See that the most important thing is not who wins or who loses. What really matters is the preciousness of life itself, and adding richness to life.
For the moment, allow what is to be what is. Feel the deep serenity and in that good feeling see and follow a positive way forward for all.
© 2016 Ralph S. Marston, Jr.
From The Daily Motivator website at http://greatday.com/motivate/160502.html
The arrival of one or more rainy days can also be interpreted as a signal to slow down and contemplate life.
The simple miracle of water falling from the sky has been interpreted in many ways by many cultures. In various areas of the world, rain was viewed as a nourishing gift, given by well-pleased deities. Rain also served as a symbol of emotional cleansing and represented the unending union between earth and sky. Today, rain is often seen as an annoyance—something to be borne doggedly while attending to one’s usual duties. But the arrival of one or more rainy days can also be interpreted as a signal to slow down and contemplate life. When Mother Nature darkens the sky and causes drizzle to fall, freshly opened buds close and many animals settle into their nests for a period of repose. We can honor rainy days by following the example put forth by the flora and fauna around us. Even if we must venture out into a shower, we can still slow down and appreciate our connection to nature.
A rainy day spent indoors can be wonderfully uplifting. As the rain pours down, fill your home with light, sound, and comfort so that you can fully appreciate the loveliness of being snug and dry during a downpour. Storms literally change the energy in the air, and you may feel driven to follow suit by burning incense or sage, ringing bells or chimes, lighting candles, or singing. You may even feel compelled to talk to each room in your home in order to express your gratitude for the protection they give you. If, however, you feel claustrophobic rather than calm because you cannot venture outdoors, you can clear away negative energy by getting rid of clutter, sweeping away dust, and freshening your up spaces. The happier you are in your home, the more beautiful and wondrous a simple rain shower will seem.
A sheltered spot like a covered porch, sunroom, or bay window can provide you with a wonderful vantage point from which to meditatively observe raindrops as they make their descent to earth. And the pitter-patter of rain on a rooftop or car window can even be a therapeutic and soothing sound—one that reminds us that while the unforeseen will always be a part of our lives, we should never forget that nearly every cloud that comes into our lives will have a silver lining.
Once a Witch, Always a Witch
I’ve heard it said “Once a Witch, always a Witch, ” meaning that if we were a Witch in a previous life, we are more or less destined to be a Witch in this one. I don’t know if that’s specifically true in my case, but it might explain some things in the story of my journey to the Craft.
As with many of my generation (and other generations, of course!), my first introduction to the concept of a Witch was the infamous Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Oddly enough, when most of my friends and relatives were rooting for Dorothy and her crew, I was on the side of the Witch. After all, she wasn’t that horrid to me – Margaret Hamilton looked better in green and black than she did in plain black-and-white, and she had a better personality than many of my friends’ mothers! And most importantly, all she wanted were her late sister’s shoes. More than anything, it was the matter of the Witch of the East’s death and the dispute over the slippers that really set my young mind in turmoil. Why shouldn’t the Witch be mad at Dorothy? The little brat had killed her sister and stolen her slippers. Wasn’t that wrong? It seemed perfectly logical to me that the Witch should be irate. Even after my parents and friend tried to “explain” things to me, I still had my doubts.
Then came Bewitched. I don’t think I missed an episode in the first run. Aside from the madcap comedy, I was attracted by the underlying story of Samantha – a Witch just trying to live an everyday life. Little did I know that that admittedly exaggerated and fictionalized story line would become my own life story decades later! But despite the enthusiasm I had for the show, I also realized intuitively that Witchcraft was much more that waving your hands, reciting rhymes and twitching your nose. On some level, I knew that although they might have some things right, they were still way off the mark.
So much for the media influence on my childhood – what about religion and spirituality? My parents are devout Methodists in their own right, and raised us as such. That is to say, they believed that your religion (synonymous, to them, with spirituality) was something that you lived and breathed every day, not just in the confines of the church or congregation. To the point, in fact, where going to church became less and less of a priority for my parents as their children matured. Eventually, we would all drift away from the “fold” to find our own ways. There came a time when my parents no longer insisted that I accompany them to church. This was about the time I “came of age” and began to search for my own independence. I stopped going to church, not because I was particularly anti-Christianity, but because I found no spiritual fulfillment in our church. It was the early ’70s, and the church was heavily involved in “political” issues – the War in Viet Nam, women’s rights, racial equality and so on. All very worthy endeavors – but to me, they were just newspaper headlines, and did not address the yearning that was beginning to awaken within me. So I left the church but not in anger, and I bear it no particular animosity to this day. I know many people for whom it has become a spiritual anchor, a source of strength and beauty in their lives, and who can decry that?
Thus began my journey, though I didn’t think of it as such at the time. Over the next few years, into my early 20s, I would develop my own understanding of the Divine that, oddly enough, would dovetail very neatly with the Paganism that I would encounter years later. Principally, I came to see that Deity was immanent in the world, not separate from it, and that Deity could as easily be Her as Him. In fact, I clearly remember one of the most insightful moments of my young life, when I saw the bumper sticker that read “God Is Coming, And Boy Is She Pissed!” – and I thought “Of course! Why shouldn’t God be female? He/She/Them/It can be anything They want!”
Interestingly, during this period, I was heavily involved in school theatre, and played the Rev. Hale in The Crucible, and John the Witch-Boy in Dark of the Moon. It was the latter experience that really fueled my nascent interest in Witchcraft as a viable and living Tradition, as well as a mystical Path, and would stay with me through the dark and tumultuous years that were to come. It was also through Dark of the Moon that I made a connection with my Appalachian roots, and the long, deep tradition of Witchcraft that runs through the hollows.
Unfortunately, shortly after my graduation from high school, my life ran aground on the shoals of alcoholism, and remained marooned there for the next decade and a half. That’s not to say that I didn’t try to find my way, but spirituality and addiction are mutually exclusive. As much as I sought, and read and tried to practice, I never could make any headway. Duh! Zen meditation doesn’t really work if you’re getting up every five minutes to get a cold beer.
I ran the gamut from Taoism to Zen to Shinto to Western Occultism and even into Satanism, and nothing seemed to “work.” Eventually, I just gave up and drifted, empty and in pain.
When I’d had enough of that, I finally got sober. It’s interesting that it was through the gateway of AA, a spiritual program with decidedly Christian origins, that I finally came to the Craft. For years, I had assumed that the concept of Deity I had evolved in my late teens was somehow “wrong” because it wasn’t like “everyone else’s.” Then I got into AA, and one of the first things I really heard was “God as we understand Him.” That went through me like a lightening bolt, and suddenly everything that I used to think I believed in was supported, validated and encouraged. Suddenly, I was back on the Path, back to my journey of discovery.
It would take another two years, involve a side-journey through the realms of shamanism, and finally an introduction to the Internet, but at last I came “home” to the Craft. Even that was a near thing – my Teacher and I met on the Internet, began a correspondence that became a friendship and eventually led to my Dedication and Initiation. But how easily we could have missed each other! Surely the Gods were working that day to make sure we got together.
Since then, my journey has continued through many trials, including lapses in my sobriety. And I am even more convinced than ever that my sobriety must come first, for without it, I am totally cut off from the Gods. But when I am sober, and in tune with my Deities, my life is sweet beyond any ability of mine to describe. Not always easy, mind you – not always gentle. But always sweet, even if there is a little tartness or bitterness to set off the sweetness.
I began as a lone wanderer, became a Wiccan Priest, and now find myself something of a wanderer again. I must confess I am more at home in the role of Solitary – what some call a Hedge Witch – than I am as part of a coven or even less formal group. The Tradition into which I am Initiated is descended from Gardnerian Wicca, but would surely be considered Eclectic by hard-core Traditionalists. And I am a bit eclectic even for my Tradition!
And so it goes. Each day, I find a new aspect to my Craft. Some of them fit into my practice of Wicca, some fit into my practice of hedgecraft. I’ve come to realize lately that when I thing of myself as Wiccan, I think in terms of the religion and the group. When I think of myself as a Witch, I think in terms of my individual spiritual life and practice. There is, to me, a wildness and freedom about being a Witch that doesn’t always fit well into even the most liberal of Wiccan frameworks. And yet I derive strength and awen – a Druid term – from each.
This is my tale. These are my thoughts and opinions. May they be of amusement or use to someone out there.
Missing The Mysteries?
Author: Sable Aradia
I believe this issue may be the most important one that the modern Pagan community faces. Our religion, our faith, is in a state of transition. We are growing – and rapidly – and there simply aren’t enough teachers around to meet the demand of students. But there are so many who seek the Pagan Path. How can we reconcile this?
A study of the history of the Craft explains many of the somewhat inexplicable views one currently finds on the topic and also warns of the pitfalls and offers answers. There are not many traditionally Initiated Gardnerians left in comparison to the number of Pagans who currently exist, but we’ve all encountered at least one; one who insisted the rest of us were wannabes and he was the real thing. Many Pagans of a variety of stripes claim superiority for one reason or another. Their tradition has been around longer, they are more historically accurate, or they have the Apostolic Succession. Why? Why does this happen, in a religion (or religions, if you will) which was originally formed in Victorian counterculture, founded by rebels, and which preaches freedom as a general rule?
Is the Pagan who learns her path from a book any less of a Pagan than one who was initiated into a Gardnerian lineage?
I was absolutely dumbfounded when I first met a Pagan who did not practice magick. I thought she was nuts. Magick, to me, was a basic principle of the Pagan way; the ability to enact change in our own lives through the power of our own Wills. How could a practicing Pagan not use magick?
But there is more than one branch of the Pagan tree, and for many, it is a matter of following an older path and finding solace in ancient gods and ways and the use of magick is not relevant to them. In that case, I say, what difference does it make whether or not those Pagans find teachers? If all you want to do is commune with the gods as you understand them, and follow an older culture’s ways, your library is likely a better teacher for the latter, and only we ourselves can truly know how much meaning and insight we glean in the former.
So, let’s consider only those paths for which magick is an important aspect, such as Wicca. What is magick, anyway? Why do we view it as part of our faith? What role does it have for us?
For many, Wicca is the name given to the faith – and Craft – of the Witches. That is, in my opinion, a legitimate view. Certainly that was the view of Gerald Gardner. Whatever you might think personally of Gardner, the Wiccan community, at any rate, is agreed on one thing. Either he is the man who invented Wicca as we currently understand it, or he is the man who revived it for the modern world. So I believe that his view is of particular importance.
It is interesting, for example, that many of the most vocal supporters of the theory that “only a Witch can make a Witch” trace their lineage back to Gardner, and believe that only those who descend from Gardner are real Witches or Wiccans. Gardner certainly didn’t think so. Gardner believed that Witches preserved elements of their ancient practices in folk magick and the lore of wise women and cunning men, mostly by handing the traditions down through families. He believed his own method and tradition to be an adaptation of what the hereditary Witches did and if you believe his testimony, you must accept that he was a rebel himself, and most of his initiates would not have been regarded as “real Witches” by the hereditary Witches, because they were not members of “Witch families.”
But Witch Wars have existed since the Craft began. Certainly the feud between Doreen Valiente and Gardner ought to illustrate that. Or, if you don’t believe that was the beginning of the Craft, the Witch Wars between cunning folk precede that famous feud. It’s interesting, too, that the issue that divided Valiente and Gardner was this very issue – how to deal with the rapid spread of the Craft, and whether or not it ought to remain the hidden path of the few, or whether as many as possible ought to be initiated and taught the ways.
But again, Gardner didn’t believe it should always remain hidden. Gardner believed that once, there had been many who had practiced the Old Ways. He believed the Witches to be the heirs to the Mystery traditions of the Ancient World, such as the Eleusinian Mysteries, and he believed that the traditions of Wiccan Initiation had descended directly from those Mysteries. He believed that Witches had been driven underground by desperation due to persecution and the Inquisition, and in the process, had lost much of their knowledge of the Old Ways. He even believed that there would come a time when once again, the Priestesses and Priests would come out of hiding, and again, there would be grand ceremonies to the Old Gods.
In the days of the Eleusinian Mysteries, almost every important Greek was an Initiate. However, not all of them were Initiates of the higher levels. The faith itself was widely practiced by even lay people. Only the truly dedicated became the Mysteries’ Priests.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were so popular that many similar traditions began, such as the Osiris Mysteries, the Cult of Isis and the Cult of Mithras. One can certainly see the reflections in Wiccan Initiation, which involves a symbolic death and rebirth!
So, what I have effectively said so far, in a nutshell, is that history supports the idea of a widespread study of Witchcraft and Paganism, and that one does not have to be traditionally trained or initiated to be considered a Wiccan or Pagan. And yes, I believe this.
But hold on.
Faith is faith. There are many Christians, for example, but only a very rare few are called to be ministers or priests. There are many Buddhists, but only a few become monks, and then bodhisattvas. There are many Jews, and few Rabbis.
Most Pagan faiths nowadays are Reconstructionists, who are re-creating ancient religions of different cultures. Most of those religions did not involve the widespread practice of magick, or indeed, any pursuit that might be called mystical or metaphysical. Only the Priesthood truly studied those sorts of things. In this case, does it matter if someone who calls himself Asatru has formal training? I don’t think it does. Magick is not necessary to the Asatru faith, though many Asatruar do choose to practice magick.
It is only in such traditions as Druidry (Druids were a class of Priests who served the Celtic people) and Wicca (where the whole religion as we currently understand it has made everyone a Priestess or Priest) that this really matters.
I think that to call oneself a Druid requires one to be trained in the mystical arts that the Druids practiced, and that does include forms of magick. Otherwise, you are a Celt. Nothing wrong with that, but you’re not a Druid, in my opinion.
In the same vein, I postulate that one does not need to practice magick or ecstatic trance to be a follower of the religion of Wicca, and therefore, a Wiccan, but one does require these things in order to be a Witch.
In a book called “The Jesus Mysteries,” the authors proposed a theory. They postulate that the tale of Jesus Christ was a Jewish Mystery tradition, inspired by the Eleusinian and Osiris Mysteries. They propose that the Gnostics, who study a Christian mysticism, are the heirs of what used to be a class of initiated priesthood of the Jesus tradition, while those who later went on to found Christianity as we currently understand it were lower-level Initiates, trying to establish the tradition to the best of their abilities after their connection to the original source of the Mysteries was lost.. They believe that after a couple of centuries of this, when the literal-minded Christians encountered the Gnostics again, they no longer recognized the founders of their faith for what they were, viewed them as blasphemers, and condemned them to the Inquisition.
It’s an interesting theory, and there isn’t a lot of data to support or refute it, but the comparison is obvious, and somewhat sobering.
Every religion began at some point with a dyed-in-the-wool mystical experience; a direct communication to the Divine. Every religion is either concerned with seeking more of that direct divine revelation, or of learning from the revelation of another.
Witches do not have prophets, because Witches are prophets. Through Drawing Down the Moon or Sun, Initiation, and other mystical practices, Witches communicate with the Divine on a regular basis, in many different forms. These are the experiences referred to as “The Mysteries.”
While I do believe that you can quite rightly be a Wiccan or a Pagan by attending a few public Sabbat rituals or reading a couple of books, only deeply dedicated solitaries, or Initiated Witches, continue to experience the Mysteries. The whole faith of Wicca is founded on those Mysteries, but unless you seek the practice of them yourself, you have to take someone else’s word for it. And according to anyone who has actually had the experience, it defies description in mere words.
So in this case, I say that since you must experience the Mysteries to truly understand them, a “Priesthood class” is definitely emerging. I also say that since traditionally Initiated Witches learn processes which create those necessary indescribable mystical experiences, directly from the hands of someone who has already experienced them, I must conclude that traditional Initiation through a lineage likely provides superior training than pursuing the same path without instruction.
However, I do not mean to say, exactly, that “only a Witch can make a Witch.” I do believe it is possible to experience Initiatory insights spontaneously, or to seek them out for oneself. Otherwise, Vision Quests would not be possible, and neither would transcendental meditation, and Mohammed never would have encountered the Archangel.
So one can, indeed, become a Witch without Apostolic Initiation, though it is fraught with many pitfalls and is more difficult and tedious. Also, just as Christian texts warn of “false prophets,” not everyone who claims to have had mystical insights really has. Some people are just looking for attention or followers. How do you really tell? Only those who share that level of Initiation can truly tell for sure.
I don’t believe this is going to give Initiated Witches more authority in the Pagan community. We are a religion of countercultural rebels, who believe that we are all Priestess and Priests which, in a sense, is true – only we know how we, personally, relate to the Divine.
At any rate, it is too late to cry over spilt milk; the cat is most definitely out of the bag. We will never again be a secretive religion of Initiated covens. We are a large faith now.
What does that mean to those of us who have been initiated into a tradition, or have had the Initiatory experiences? Well, for one thing, I think we should stop alienating the rest of the Pagan community by claiming superiority. If we want Wicca to lose its sense of the Mysteries, we’re certainly working very hard to encourage just that.
Perhaps we can take the role of bodhisattvas, only ones that live in the world. Our religion teaches us to love this world and find mystical wisdom in it, not to transcend it, so I don’t believe we can live apart from it. But we must take the same attitude; we cannot force others to conform to our view of what Wicca and Paganism should be, but hope that the few who are called will come to us for teaching when they are ready, and we must therefore do the best we can to pass on what we’ve learned when we’re asked for it.
Further, we must not compromise those insights because someone doesn’t want to admit that they haven’t reached that level of insight yet, nor can we compromise the methods by which we learned them. The fact is that means that the practice and training of Witchcraft within Wicca will be the path of the few. But Paganism and Wicca may one day be the religion of the many.
Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner
The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton
Responsibility, Free Will and the Craft
Author: Rhys Chisnall
Responsibility is a byword of Initiatory Craft and as Craft initiates we are expected to be coping adults and be able to take responsibility for our own actions. We don’t believe in the Devil and so can’t pin our own shortcomings at his ‘supernatural’ door; nor indeed do we seek as Vivianne Crowley says in ‘Wicca: the Old Religion in the New Age’, an unrealistic sainthood. Rather we seek to take responsibility for our own world. I was told during my training that ‘Witches happen to life, life does not happen to Witches’. Sure, ‘sh*t happens’, says another much quoted real world centred Craft saying, but we have a responsibility in how we deal with life’s inevitabilities. This article examines whether we can have responsibility.
Responsibility seems to imply free will, after all most people would agree that we need to be free to make choices and decisions about our actions in order to be held responsible for them. It seems intuitively unfair to lay blame and responsibility for a crime if the perpetrator had no choice in committing it. An individual could hardly be blamed for holding up a bank if they had a bomb strapped to them by a criminal who told them that the device would be exploded killing them (and others) if they deviated from the plan. We would not hold them responsible, as they had no choice; they were coerced in to doing what they did. Likewise if a person was brainwashed or hypnotised into committing a crime we would be loath to blame them as we would we feel that they were not responsible. They were forced to do things against how they would have normally acted. The opposite is also true, when someone chooses to do something particularly brave or good, or copes with a debilitating disease with dignity and grace we praise and admire them. We view them as responsible for their actions. When someone chooses to put others needs before their own, again we either praise them or consider them mugs for the responsibility for their choices.
Responsibility need not have a moral aspect as it can also be seen as self-empowering. If we take responsibility for something then it comes into our sphere of control; we can do something about it. If we blame other people or events for our misfortunes we are effectively saying that we are powerless. We are putting ourselves in the role of the victim and that is not something that sits easily with Witchcraft. Looking at responsibility in this sense also seems to imply free will. Responsibility seems to suggest that we need free will to make the choice to take control of our own lives, to influence where life is taking us thus making us powerful individuals. It is in this meaning of responsibility where we find one of the empowerment sources of the Witch and a fundamental cornerstone of Initiatory Craft thinking.
Free will is an important concept in many different religions. For example in Christianity free will is a doctrine and is required for someone to either accept the teachings of Jesus Christ and be saved, or reject them and be damned. It is viewed as a gift from God and without it God would not be able to pass judgment, as sinners would not be responsible for their actions. It is a foundation of Christian belief and causes those Christians interested in philosophy huge headaches. Likewise to believers in the New Age movement and popular Wicca, who adhere to the simplistic morality of Western Karma, free will is an important but self-contradictory concept. Free will is required to make choices on actions which will later go on to influence what happens to that person in terms of fortune or misfortune caused by the accumulation of negative karma from bad acts and positive karma from good ones. I am sure you can see the potential for contradiction.
But does free will exist? This is a subject that metaphysicians have explored over the ages and although there is not a complete consensus (such a thing does not exists on anything in philosophy) , free will seems extremely unlikely. What is more it is extremely unlikely in any possible view of the world. It seems that free will could not exist in a deterministic universe as revealed by scientific method nor even in a ‘possible’ universe were random non caused events could occur.
First let us take the scientific, deterministic paradigm of how the Universe operates. British Post Feminist Philosopher Dr. Janet Radcliffe Richards explored this in her book ‘Human Nature after Darwin’. If we ignore the Quantum world for a moment (where random events do occur and where probability rather than determinism rules) science works on principals of determinism, effects have causes and those causes have other causes all the way back to the Big Bang or Quantum world. This means anything that you choose to do has to have a cause, which itself must have also been caused. As such any action you perform has causes that extend back way before you were even born. There does not seem to be any room for free will as everything was set in motion by the big bang. Your choices are subject to a chain of causes extending back beyond your existence, so how could you be held responsible, how could you choose freely to do anything?
Science makes no assumptions of free will. A recent example is an article on teenage responsibility in the ‘New Scientist’ (25th Sept 2010) . Jessica Hamzelou discusses recent research into the growth and development of the brain in young people with its implications on responsibility. In particular the research looked at development of White Matter in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, the area that deals with being able to understand the long term effects of one’s actions. The argument being that as this part of the brain does not fully form until a person reaches the age of about 20 this explains why teenagers often make very poor decisions. Although they know the difference between right and wrong they cannot be held fully accountable for their actions, as they do not yet have a full understanding of their behaviours consequences. Isn’t it funny how biological psychology has reconfirmed the old idea that a person isn’t an adult until they are 21?
This report implies that there is no free will and the causes of behaviour in young people are determined by their biological development. It is not hard to make similar arguments based upon hormones, education, social influences, poor parenting, genetics, influence of peers, environmental factors etc. These in turn are caused by evolutionary pressures, which operated on the person’s gene pool millions of years before they were born. There seems to be no room at all for free will in the massively complex interplay of the huge amount of various layers of causes on an individual’s behaviour. Young people and by extension ourselves have no real choice or free will in what they or they and we do.
But if you think that it is looking bad for the existence of free will in a deterministic universe so far, like they say here in Suffolk, ‘you ain’t seen nothin’; it gets even worse.
Consider the fascinating research done by the American Physiologist Benjamin Libet and others. Libet discovered that when we believe we are making a decision our conscious awareness of our decision-making is a relative latecomer to the game. It turns out that we have already unconsciously/pre-consciously made the decision. We don’t become aware of our decision until a fraction of a moment after we have made it.
Think of it this way: You know the opening titles of the ‘Simpsons’ where baby Maggie thinks that she is steering the car, but the camera pans back and we see that it is Marge who is actually driving? It turns out that our conscious awareness of making decisions is actually like little Maggie, and is reacting to decisions made pre-consciously rather than making them itself. However, we should also remember that the pre-conscious makes our decisions based upon our beliefs, which goes to show just how important beliefs actually are. However, it is important to point out that this research is not without its critics. The American Philosopher and Cognitive Scientist Daniel Dennett is not convinced by the methodology of this research and another philosopher (also a supporter of determinism) Alfred Mele is not convinced by its form. However none of these concerns doubt the difficulties of free will in respect to determinism.
Come to think of it you don’t need to be a physiologist or a cognitive scientist to view other people’s behaviours as having causes. We often interpret people’s actions in everyday life and circumstances as the result of causes. For example, we might say that John was late to work because he was lazy, or that Bill shoplifted because he fell in with bad company after having a deprived childhood. Looking for causes in our own and other people’s behaviour was called Attribution Theory by the social psychologist Harold Kelly. Two parts of which are known as Fundamental Attribution Error and the Actor/Observer effect. In the west, we are culturally determined to explain other people’s behaviour in terms of internal causes, e.g. they are lazy, they are hard working, they are selfish, etc. When it comes to our own behaviour, we tend to explain it in terms of external causes, for example: I was cross because he annoyed me, I lied because she put me in an impossible position or I was late because the traffic was bad. In either case, we intuitively seek to explain behaviour in terms of deterministic causes.
Those who believe strictly that all our actions are determined in a continuous chain of cause and effect and believe there is no such thing as responsibility are called ‘hard determinists’. This is a view similar to those who believe in fate. That everything in life is already determined and we are living a kind of script. The American philosopher Professor Theodore Sider has devised a simple test to find out if hard determinists really do have the courage of their convictions. The test is simple: punch such a person on the nose and see how convinced they are that it wasn’t your responsibility. Tell them that the act had been pre-determined since the big bang. My guess is that they will not be too keen to practise what they preach and accept your reasoning. Mind you there is a way around this as they could claim that your actions caused them to deterministically retaliate in kind.
There does not seem to be much room for free will in a deterministic universe as described by science. Is this a reason for rejecting scientific determinism? Does free will and responsibility do any better in a spiritual world, or a world were random events occur that are not caused?
Both Sider and Radcliffe Richards along with many other philosophers have dealt with this problem and have come up with the same answer. If a random event occurred then surely it can still no longer be free will. To demonstrate this point Professor Ted Sider uses this colourful example in the book ‘Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics’. Imagine the following scene: In a Universe where random uncaused events occur, Mother Teresa is working with the poor of Calcutta. While working away she randomly picks up a hand grenade, pulls out the pin and throws it into an orphanage killing hundreds. The event was completely uncaused and random. The question is was she responsible? Remember that the event was completely uncaused as there was nothing in Mother Teresa’s past, personality or mind that caused it.
Surely as Mother Teresa did not intend or have anything within her that caused the mass murder she can’t be responsible and therefore she was not exercising fee will. Randomness and uncaused events cannot be the product of free will, because and for free will to exist it needs to be caused and causal. Without cause, there can be no free will as in a non-causal universe free will could not cause anything. Random events that happen in the Quantum world also do not save free will, as randomness is uncaused and nothing can take responsibility for randomness. If nothing causes free will, then it does not come from the person so the person cannot be responsible and free will can’t exist.
It seems that free will simply can’t exist either in a random universe or a deterministic one. Besides a random universe is problematic as it just does not accord with our observations of nature beyond the quantum level. As Crafters, we ought to be suspicious of the concept of a world of random non-caused events as this does not fit with the idea that magic can be effective. After all magic, while not clearly understood, seems to works by a variety of mechanisms all of which are deterministic. The Magician or Witch performs the spell that causes, via complicated processes, the desired outcome.
What about free will existing in a universe in which souls and spirits exist? After all, religious people often see the source of their free will as residing in their souls, these being a gift from God to see whom he can trust to let into Heaven. Radcliffe Richards points out that if such was the case then the spirits and souls would still be either existing in a deterministic world where they would be subject to cause and effect (why should spirits be free of determinism?) , or in a random world where there could be no responsibility as nothing is caused. Both are equally problematic for free will and responsibility.
Radcliffe Richards goes on to claim that free will is a necessary nonexistent. By this philosophers mean that there are some things that don’t exist in an ordinary way (weird as that sounds) , for examples fairies, spirits, hobgoblins, nice tasting American beer, etc. These things are not real but they could exist in metaphorical ‘other world’. Some other things just cannot exist in any world, they are just too contradictory, and these are necessary non-existent. For example, things like four-sided triangles, round squares, two plus two equal five and so it seems, free will. In other words, there is just no such thing as free will as it is assumed to exist in normal discourse; it is completely impossible for it to exist in any possible world.
So is Craft philosophy with its emphasis on personal responsibility completely scuppered? Perhaps there is a third option that we could explore.
There is a branch of the freewill/determinism metaphysical debate that could come to our rescue. It has a revised concept of free will, which is still part of the deterministic world in which we live; in fact it is compatible with it. This is a view that is held by most modern philosophers and is called, funny enough, compatiblism or ‘soft determinism’. The Stoics championed it in ancient times and more recently several major philosophers of the Enlightenment, including the famous 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume, supported it.
Although a hugely complex web of events that extends back beyond our existence causes everything we believe or know or do, soft determinists believe that we have ‘free will’ when we act without external coercion from another agent according to how these causes have made us. By ‘coercion by another agent’ we mean being forced into doing something such as being brainwashed or hypnotised, etc. Essentially this is what the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer meant when he famously said, “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills”. So although who we are is determined through cause and effect, soft determinists see us as acting freely when our actions are consistent with that tapestry. In Initiatory Craft we call this massively complex pattern Wyrd.
To be fair it isn’t the traditional free will of common discourse, but it is the situated agency of humanistic psychology. It is when we act in accord with how we have been determined to be, in accordance with our personalities, beliefs and character within the constraints of our situations and context.
Soft determinists claim that we are the product of hugely complex causal forces. These include evolutionary forces, physiology and biology, our culture, education, experiences and the beliefs that they form. It can be successfully argued that part of this rich tapestry of causal personhood is responsibility. In other words, the concept of responsibility, a belief in taking responsibility and being responsible for our actions is a causal part of our makeup. The idea of responsibility, all things being equal with other causal factors, makes us take responsibility. However this only holds true if we have been exposed to the concept and have the kind of character and experiences that causes us to take these beliefs on board which in turn enables us towards self-empowerment. In other words we have been caused to take responsibility, which makes good education in my view extremely important.
Taking responsibility will influence our decision-making processes as much as anything else, making it part of the soft deterministic world view. It makes us act as we are determined to be, having situated agency or what the soft determinists refer to as liberty. It is taking responsibility for the unfolding process of Wyrd through self-knowledge that is relevant to the Craft view of what a Witch is. It empowers us in shaping our lives in accord with the deterministic forces that have in turn have shaped us. If we have been determined to accept this responsibility then we can do nothing else, it is our Wyrd. Responsibility gives us a degree of agency.
In the end, despite there being no such thing as free will in any possible universe, there is still an important role for responsibility as it is viewed in the Craft. Taking responsibility, which is so important to the Initiatory Craft and to self-empowerment in general, is part of the vastly complex tapestry of causal forces that include concepts and beliefs that goes into making a person. Therefore the Initiatory Craft view of taking personal responsibility stands up to the philosophical scrutiny and refutation of free will.
Remembering and Reconnecting
I do consider my religion – Wicca – and my particular practice of it, to be Earth-based. Such a statement might seem absurdly obvious on the surface, but it is, I think, important to state it in this fashion. Wicca has within it elements of Ceremonial Magic, and it has been my personal experience that it is quite possible to become obsessed with and lost in the liturgical and ritual forms, to the extent that what one ends up practicing has, in fact, more in common with CM than with Wicca.
Now, don’t misunderstand me: We need ritualists and liturgists who can preserve the outer forms of our religion, and re-invent them as time goes by, so that we neither lose our traditional roots nor become mired in them. The creation, preservation and cultivation of ritual and liturgy are important, but I’m not talking about that here. I am talking about an unhealthy balance where an individual or group over-focuses on those outer forms, often to the detriment of the inner energies. So it is important, I think, that we remind ourselves, individually and collectively, that our religion IS Earth-based, and that, in my personal tradition at least, re-connecting with the Earth and Her cycles is one of the central concepts and objectives.
But then, what is this whole “re-connect with the Earth” thing, anyway? Sounds like a bunch of neo-Hippie, tree-hugging, New Age bushwa, doesn’t it?
Western thought seems to enjoy lampooning and belittling whatever it doesn’t like or cannot understand, as if by satirizing something, it is made harmless and non-threatening. (This, oddly enough, is a very Celtic concept. Bards of Old Eire were feared for their power to debilitate a powerful leader by the use of satire.) Culturally, we will even go so far as to transform an inherently neutral or positive label – New Age, for instance – into a synonym for something wacky and outlandish. So those outsiders – or insiders, for that matter – who roll their eyes when they say or hear “re-connect with the Earth” obviously haven’t bothered to fully consider what that means.
We aren’t talking about sticking our feet into the ground and putting out roots. What we are talking about is simply becoming fully aware of – and experiencing as fully as possible – our relationship to the biosphere. For the most part, citizens of modern technological nations have fallen out of that awareness and experience. Some would argue that, without this awareness and experience, we as a species are doomed, because nothing short of these will prevent us from terminally fouling our nest. In more immediate and individual terms, however, I believe that a fuller awareness and experience of our relationship to the biosphere and, by extension, the Universe itself, is mandatory for true physical, mental and spiritual health. This is, as I understand it, the primary thrust of Taoist philosophy and religion, and is certainly a primary objective in my practice of Wicca.
Wicca, as I have said, is my religion. My spirituality, however, is Witchcraft. Some would not agree with this dichotomization, but then, as mother used to say, that’s why they make vanilla and chocolate. I make the distinction because I define those terms differently. Wicca is my religion – it is something I joined, a community that has a unique identity, and to be part of that community I am obliged, to a greater or lesser degree, to conform to the community template. I, personally, believe that there are certain things that I must agree to, that I must practice, that I must believe and that I must espouse, in order to be Wiccan. While there is certainly a great deal of individual latitude, I nonetheless believe that were I to deviate too far from the “community template” of Wicca, I would no longer be practicing Wicca. In the practice of certain martial arts, students are given a great deal of latitude to improvise and personalize the art. However, at a certain point, if that improvisation and personalization goes too far, that individual is no longer practicing that particular art, but something unique unto themselves that they have created there from. This is not a judgment on the art itself nor on what the individual has created from it; it is simply a statement of fact.
So it is, I believe, with the practice of Wicca, or any religion, for that matter. (But then, these are only my beliefs, and have no power beyond the tip of my nose.)
Witchcraft, on the other hand, I define as that body of techniques that enables the practitioner (Witch) to live in harmony with the rhythms of Life. “Life” here may be seen as synonymous with All That Is: an individual’s life-path, the greater community of Humankind, the biosphere and the Universe – in short, Everything. And those rhythms include the “bad” as well as the “good.” By this definition, Wicca is just another “technique” in my practice of Witchcraft, something which helps me to attune to the rhythms of Life. And this is, for me, as it should be: religion should always be the servant of spirituality. When that formula is inverted, we are left with dictatorial religious institutions.
When one truly seeks a deeper, fuller understanding of our connection to and place in the Universe, one cannot help but develop, I believe, a concern for the welfare of the “natural” world, i.e. the biosphere. Even if one were a staunch “scientific Pagan,” I don’t believe one could overlook the necessity of preserving an uncontaminated environment in order to ensure the survival of Humankind. And if one looks beyond mere survival, then we must recognize the necessity of preserving the beauty of unsullied nature as an adjunct to the mental, emotional and spiritual health of humanity.
Those of us who believe this face grave obstacles today. We are now ruled by an administration that is obviously bent on furthering the cause of “Big Business” – which has always been the destructive exploitation of the Earth for profit – at the expense of the environment. More and more, corporations are freed of the restrictions imposed on them by former, relatively saner, regimes. More and more, they are free to “rape and pillage” as they see fit, regardless of the destruction they cause. Nor can we simply blame “Western thought” for these travesties, as the policies of China in modern Tibet relieve the West of sole responsibility in the rape of the planet and the destruction of her children.
At times, it seems overwhelming, and it may well be an effort doomed to failure, although such failure will certainly doom humanity to eventual extinction. But we must try, each in her or his own way. I myself am not much of a “joiner,” and taking care of what little land is “mine” takes up most of my time. So you won’t see me at many demonstrations or protests. But what I lack in “discretionary time” I make up for in “disposable income,” and I can and do support the environmental cause with my monetary contributions. In the end, only money can defeat Big Money, so I don’t feel that this is merely a token gesture to assuage my conscience. And I do take an active, if geographically limited, part: there is a nature trail in the community near my home, which I avail myself of at every opportunity. As one might imagine, this trail is subject to all kinds of littering, not only from walkers but from nearby homeowners. When I walk, I always carry a trash bag, and I clean up what I can. When someone creates a mess too big for me, I make sure the community association knows about it, as there are strict rules regarding such abuse. I don’t know that my actions have ever led to the censure or fining of a guilty homeowner, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying.
Tattle tale? Snitch? Ratfink? You’re damn right.
And then there are the “little” things that all of us can do: proper soil management on our property; avoiding fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; using “low impact” products; driving fuel-efficient autos; using mass transit when possible; recycling. It is gratifying to see that, in our neighborhood at least, we have a very high percentage of participation in the recycling effort. But then, these things should be “no brainers” for everyone, Pagan or not, in my opinion.
Perhaps the biggest difference between me and my neighbors is that, when I recycle or pick up litter, I see it as a sacrament, an acknowledgment that I AM RESPONSIBLE; not for the whole shebang, but for what I, as an individual, can do. I’ve always subscribed to the belief that “a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” On any given day, I can’t solve all of the world’s environmental problems. But I can do something, even if it’s only picking up one piece of litter. No action occurs in a vacuum; every action has consequences, and resonates along the Web of Wyrd.
Despite the odds, none of us are totally powerless; we can always do something. And sometimes, in the wee dark hours of the morning, that’s all we have to hold onto.
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2016 May 2
Explanation: Where is NASA’s rover Curiosity going on Mars? Its geographical goals are on the slopes of Mount Sharp, whose peak is seen in the background on the right. A key scientific goal, however, remains to better assess when and where conditions on Mars were once suitable for life, in particular microbial life. To further this goal, Curiosity was directed to cross the rugged terrain of Nautkluft Plateau, visible in the featured image on the foreground left. Curiosity iscrossing toward smoother uphill sites with rocks containing hematite and sulfates, sites that could give the rolling rover new clues on how long this part of Mars was wet — and hence more favorable for life — before drying out. Of recent concern, however, is Curiosity’s aluminum wheels, which are showing increasing signs of wear. Although already fulfilling the goals of its two year study, Curiosity’s mission has been extended as it continues to uncover valuable information about the extraordinary past of Mars, the next planet out from the Sun from Earth.
Follow the arc to star Arcturus in May
Now is the perfect time to look outside in the evening and learn a phrase useful to sky watchers. The phrase is: follow the arc to Arcturus.
First locate the Big Dipper asterism in the northeastern sky. Then draw an imaginary line following the curve in the Dipper’s handle until you come to a bright orange star. This star is Arcturus in the constellation Bootes, known in skylore as the bear guard.
Arcturus is a giant star with an estimated distance of 37 light-years. It’s special because it’s not moving with the general stream of stars, in the flat disk of the Milky Way galaxy. Instead, Arcturus is cutting perpendicularly through the galaxy’s disk at a tremendous rate of speed … some 150 kilometers per second. Millions of years from now this star will be lost from the view of any future inhabitants of Earth, or at least those who are earthbound and looking with the eye alone.
So that’s how to “follow the arc” to the star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. Learn how you candrive a spike to the star Spica – and the planet Mars – in the constellation Virgo with the help of tomorrow’s sky chart.
About the Author
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded the website EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website and blogs frequently about astrophysics, the night sky and other topics related to Earth, space and the human world. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.
Article published on EarthSky
The Wisdom of Buddha