Tag Archives: Wicca

Inner Work and Outer Work. As Above, So Below.

Did you do anything on Earth Day? Did you plant a tree yesterday, on Arbor Day? Do these holidays mean anything to you or do they pass unnoticed as we whirl towards Beltane? Both days call for outward acts — cleaning up a creek bed, protesting mountaintop removal, planting trees — while Beltane can, for a solitary Witch, happen all alone at an altar or ritual fire.

I adore Beltane and I can hardly draw a breath these days that doesn’t seem imbued with the coming of that great festival of bonfires. Can you feel it? Can you feel the Wheel turning under your feet, bringing you closer and closer?

I’ve been pondering a lot lately about the connection, within Paganism, between inner and out work. So often (too often, IMHO) one reads that if one changes oneself (through inner work such as meditation, magical practice, journaling, etc.) one will change the world. And that’s not untrue (there, how do you like that double negative!?!) But it serves, too often IMHO, as an out, as a way of engaging in endless naval gazing and avoiding the real work that needs to be done out in the World, the work that will, when done correctly, spur continued inner growth. I’d like to see it said, as frequently, that by changing the world, one changes oneself.

I’ve been reading Dion Fortune‘s The Magical Battle of Britain, in which she describes the magical work done to protect Britain during World War II. In her letter for the week of (interestingly) April 21st, 1940, she writes that, in spite of the war, the headquarters of her work:

is a centere of peace. . . . This is as it should be; firstly, because if it were otherwise, we could not be a centre of radiation, and secondly, because it proves that we are doing our work efficiently — physician heal thyself! If we were unable to maintain an atmosphere of serenity in our own head-quarters, how could we hope to be a nucleus of stability for the group-soul of the nation?

Just a few weeks later, on June 16th, 1940, she writes:

From our Inner Plane contacts we draw strength and inspiration; in our work on the physical plane we give expression to what we have received. It is not enough to make contact and receive inspiration. The inspiration will soon dry up unless it flows through us, ever renewing itself in flowing. For those who have the deeper knowledge, participation in the national war effort is a sacramental act whereby the power that has been drawn down is put in circuit. Break the circuit, and the power ceases to flow.

I think Fortune gets it exactly right in this respect. Do you agree?

Picture found here.

A Ceremony for the Worms

Then the night came, like a ceremony.

~Christine Kane in “Now That You Know”

And, tonight, I sat at my altar for a ceremony of gratitude to the worms.

I came home from work in the lovely, lengthening light and planted the last of the Black Cat petunias, and datura wrightii, black hollyhock, and white foxglove seeds. More rain is promised for this evening and tomorrow, so I wanted to finish up the planting. Like the Spring, I’m early this year, although my goal is always to get everything in by Beltane. It feels good, for once, to be done ahead of schedule.

I sit down on the ground and dig the holes for my seedlings and seeds with a small hand trowel. I like that system because it brings me close to the ground and I can see exactly what’s going on. How much has the mulch from the last few seasons broken down and turned into good dirt on top of the red Virginia clay? How wet or dry is the soil? Does it smell like good loam? And, maybe most important, how are the worms? Worms do so much to make soil healthy and their presence is generally a good sign for gardeners. I’ve never seen as many as I’ve seen this year.

I’m grateful for their presence here on my Bit of Earth and I want them to know how welcome they are. I also know that I kill some when I dig into the ground with my sharp trowel. And I want them to know that I’m sorry. (Indeed, I’m sorrier than Dorothy Parker who wrote: “It costs me never a stab nor squirm to tread by chance upon a worm. ‘Aha, my little dear!’ I say, ‘Your kind will pay me back, one day.'”)

And so once my planting is done, I hold a ceremony of gratitude for the worms, sitting at my altar and sending my roots deep into their kingdom and telling them how much I appreciate them, how welcome they are here, how grateful I am for what they do. You can laugh, but my worms and I have a good, well, not talk, but a good communication. I apologize for the harm that I do to them and, in recompense, I rise and go outside to spread coffee grounds (Starbucks will give you pounds for free if you ask) all around the garden beds. Landscape Guy first told me how much worms like coffee grounds and he was right. They do. And so do the plants. I go back inside and sit again at my altar and say to the worms and all of the powers, and spirits, and beings of this place: “May we live in right relation to each other.”

And then I put lavender, rosemary, and peppermint in the hottest bath water I can run and soak my old muscles. The worms are limber and flexible. This old woman is not.

May you and your worms celebrate each other.

Picture found here.

Being a Witch in Liminal Times


If Katherine Graham is watching from the other side of the veil, she must be rending her garments over what’s happened to the Washington Post, for the integrity of which she once stood up to the threat of the most powerful man in the world who wished that she would “get her tit caught in a big fat wringer.” One of the Post’s few remaining lights is the Capital Weather Gang. This week, they’ve been writing, as my brilliant friend E called to my attention, about how truly intense global climate change was this past year. And everything they say is true, but all that I need to do is to step outside into my little cottage garden and see plants sprouting that “shouldn’t” sprout for another 75 days to know that, well, as Ms. Gale remarked, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Our planet is changing and we’ll all have to change along with her.

Responding to a question from her step-daughter about what would happen if our government were to “collapse,” Alison Leigh Lilly said:

“So, if the government ever collapsed, your job would be to be a good person, to have hope and work hard and do your best to help make the world a better place. To love others and believe the best of people and do what you can to make your community safe and happy, to support and help those who are vulnerable and strive to always be kind, compassionate and fair. All right? That’s your job now, and that will always be your job, whether or not there’s a government. It might get a little harder, or it might get easier. But the really basic truths of life don’t change.”

I don’t think you can explain it any more succinctly than that. (Must be the Druidic training.)

Ms. Lilly’s little girl has reason for concern. (Although I doubt that she’ll live to see the complete collapse of an entity known as the United States government. After all, Charlemagne was still calling himself the Holy Roman Emperor some nearly 400 years after the decline of the Roman empire. What she (and my G/Son) are likely to see is some form of government quite different from what we see today, but one that insists that it’s the same American democracy created by Jefferson and Adams. It may be worse. It may (I hope) be better. But it’s likely going to insist on a provenance that it may not entirely deserve.) We live, in the words of the ancient Chinese curse, in interesting times.

Interesting times are liminal times. As a devotee of Hecate, I have an affinity for liminal times, liminal spaces, the condition of liminality. Hecate, in my humble experience, doesn’t create magic or change. Instead, what She does is to show up at liminal times and in liminal spaces. When humbly and genuinely invoked, She can dance liminality into being. And it is liminality that creates the conditions in which change (provoked by magic, or by hard work, or by luck, or by love) can occur. She forks the road so that the two roads diverge in a wood and one can take the road less traveled by, and that makes all of the difference. (Actually, She’s a bit more complex than even that poet of complexity, Frost, could imagine. Hecate Trivia, Hecate of the Three Roads, generally creates a crossroads with (at least) a third road that would have given poor Mr. Frost even more pause. Because that’s how liminality works. It’s never either/or. It’s either/or/and/and/and.)

Some time ago, John Michael Greer, another Druid, wrote a piece that’s greatly influenced my thinking about America’s truly frightening (at least until Wisconsin and Occupy) response to the liminal times in which we live. He said:

That possibility [of a soft landing for our culture, as described by Lovelock] was foreclosed when the leaders of the major industrial nations embraced short term politics instead of meaningful planning in the years right after 1980. At this point, the resources that might have powered a transition to sustainability have been burnt [in order] to fuel one last orgy of conspicuous consumption, and the consequences of that final spree, combined with epic economic mismanagement and a good solid helping of chicanery and outright fraud, have tipped the industrial nations of the world over into what promises to be a long and difficult period of economic malfunction.

When familiar myths fail and life gets difficult, in turn, the results rather too often include a form of collective flight into fantasy well known to sociologists and students of history. Think of cargo cults, Ghost Dancers, Americans waiting in a suburban Chicago backyard to be taken off the planet by the Space Brothers, and every other example you recall of people responding to a difficult situation by a leap of faith to a farther shore that didn’t happen to be there. Now think about it again, remembering that this time the motivating factors may well include the symbols and slogans and passionate hopes that matter most to you.

The standard jargon for phenomena of this kind is revitalization movements. They happen when a society is hit by repeated troubles that cut straight to the core of its identity and values. In such times, when existing institutions fail and the collective foundations of meaning crack, there’s a large demand for some new vision of destiny that will make sense of the troubles and offer a way past them to some brighter future. The economics of popular belief being what they are, that demand very quickly finds an ample supply.

Revitalization movements, like new cars, come with standard features and a range of optional gewgaws that can be added on to suit the tastes of the buyer. The standard features include a thorough critique of the existing order of society, which is meant to show that the troubles have occurred because either the people who have suffered from them, or some other group that’s to blame for them, have misbehaved and are being punished; a vision of a Utopian future that will arrive right after the troubles if the right things are done; and a straightforward plan of action to make the transition from the troubles to the Utopian future. The problem is that the plan of action can’t actually deliver the goods; that’s what defines something as a revitalization movement rather than, say, an ordinary movement seeking social change. Revitalization movements emerge when all the practical options for dealing with a crisis are either unworkable or unthinkable.

The optional features range all over the map from the harmless to the horrific. A focus on purification, for example, is one common optional feature, but purification can mean a great many things. In the Native American revitalization movements of the twentieth century, for example, it usually meant abstaining from alcohol and other toxic products of white culture, and did a great deal to help First Nations communities begin to recover from the ghastly experiences of the previous century. In the European revitalization movements that sprang up in the wake of the Black Death, by contrast, it usually meant getting rid of Jews and other social outsiders who were blamed for spreading the plague, and helped lay the foundation for the witch hunting mania of the following centuries.

It seems uncomfortably likely to me that such movements could be set in motion by the emergence of peak oil as a publicly acknowledged crisis. Tendencies in that direction are already welded firmly in place in popular culture across the industrial world. The Sarah Palin supporters who turned “Drill, baby, drill” into their mantra du jour are engaging in incantation, to be sure, but there’s more to the slogan than a comfortable thoughtstopper; a great many of the people who mouth it believe with all their heart that all we have to do is drill enough wells and we can have all the petroleum we want, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get those wells drilled. That plan of action can’t deliver the goods; they might as well be out there with the cargo cults, building mock airfields on isolated Pacific islands hoping to bring back the DC-3s full of K-rations and cheap trade goods that landed on a hundred archipelagoes during the Second World War. Still, that’s not something they are likely to grasp any time soon; mere reason has essentially no power against a nascent revitalization movement.

The shift from incantation to revitalization movement is under way on the other side of the political spectrum as well, though it hasn’t generally gotten as much traction yet – a reminder that in America, at least, the ideologies of the left these days tend to be favored by the still relatively privileged middle classes, while the working classes that favor ideologies of the right have gotten the short end of the stick for decades. Still, the tendencies are there. Watch the conversations on most reasonably active peak oil forums, and you’re very likely to see people insisting that all of us, or at least a chosen few, can make the transition to a brighter future if only we follow some plan of action they are eager to share. In those conversations, the seeds of the revitalization movements to come are putting out their first tentative shoots.

If those seeds sprout and blossom, keeping a clear mind amid their heady perfume will be a more challenging task than I suspect most of my readers realize. What sets revitalization movements apart from the more incantatory activities of the true believers in progress or apocalypse is that revitalization movements actually buckle down and do something, and tolerably often, at least some of the things they do are worth doing. Hope is an intoxicating drug; hope blended with opportunities for apparently constructive action is an even stronger one; add the emotional lure of belonging, the promise of mutual support and encouragement, and the rush that comes from dropping ordinary concerns for the single-minded pursuit of a shared ideal, and you’ve got an addictive high that’s hard to resist and harder to quit. That’s why revitalization movements so often gather large crowds, and proceed to follow out the consequences of their internal logic to its furthest extreme, no matter how catastrophic the consequences might be.

In the present case, they could be catastrophic indeed. I think most people know in theory about the destination of the road paved with good intentions, but revitalization movements that go awry have a bad habit of putting that theory into practice. Next week, I’ll explore those uncomfortable possibilities in more detail, and in the process, show how the magical thinking that underlies revitalization movements could be put to use in much more constructive ways.

For the moment, though, I want to pass on the counterspell against incantatory thinking that I mentioned at the conclusion of last week’s post. Like the magic spells in fairy tales, it comes with a taboo that limits what you can do with it. The taboo is this: you can use it to guard yourself from incantations, if you think about it and understand it, and you can pass it on to someone else who’s ready to receive and understand it. If you give it to someone who’s not willing to accept it, though, it will cause exactly the flight into incantation and fantasy it’s meant to prevent. Here it is:

There is no brighter future ahead.

Keep it secret; keep it safe. We’ll talk more next week.

And, while I agree with Greer that the “good times” fueled by carbon that we couldn’t imagine expiring, aren’t coming back, I also believe, along with Ms. Lilly, that perhaps not so much will change. With or without regular electricity, with or without predictable planting cycles, with or without a central government, our job as Witches would still be:

to be a good person, to have hope and work hard and do your best to help make the world a better place. To love others and believe the best of people and do what you can to make your community safe and happy, to support and help those who are vulnerable and strive to always be kind, compassionate and fair. All right? That’s your job now, and that will always be your job, whether or not there’s a government. It might get a little harder, or it might get easier. But the really basic truths of life don’t change.”

A Witch’s job is to turn the Wheel. And round and round the Wheel must turn.

Picture found here.

Putting the “Pride” in Pagan Pride Events


Star Foster has written an important post: Why I Love Wicca. It’s especially important for anyone involved in organizing Pagan Pride events and/or interacting with the media. You should read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

We are a religion of many sects, many cults, many expressions. From the “hard Gards” to the solitary eclectics weaving their own magic. We are each full of the same awe, wonder, mystery, and joy. We cast the circle, call the elements, honor the Gods, celebrate the Mystery and send our energy to make a positive change in the world. This happens in rituals containing hundreds of people. This happens silently in candlelit bedrooms of closeted solitaries. Our words may be different, our mythos vary and the details be different, but as Wiccans we are all calling forth the same Mystery. Maybe this Mystery is something passed down in secret from the ancient Pagans of England and Italy, maybe the distillation of the grimoire tradition, the torch of the Neo-Platonists passed down over the centuries, or a bit of divine inspiration as a goaty old man in England crafted a new Eleusis out of thin air.

We adore a Goddess as silvery as the moon, who despite her tough, craggy, pocked and cratered face shines with grace and beauty. Delicate and gentle in the night sky, those who underestimate her forget she can make the sea itself beat against the shore. She pours her love out upon the earth, on every sexual and gender identity, on every skin color, on every age, every level of ability. She gives us her acceptance and love, for we are born from her blessed, without blemish or sin. Then she charges us to make the absolute best we can with the current life we are given, to recognize our power and rise to every challenge, before we return to her, like a rain drop returning to the boundless sea. It is she who brings the dew, makes verdant the seed and excites all the earth to fecund glory. She is the changing woman, always moving, always perfectly herself and never quite who you expect.

We adore a God who is hunter and hunted, who is the dark forest and the baking desert, the deep blackness of death and decay and also the white hot heat of the blazing sun. He is the keeper of the dead and the guide to rebirth. Maybe you see him antlered, horned and hooved, as a crowned solar king, as a child of promise, as continually battling siblings, or as the dark lord of death. Maybe he is just that still point when you find the rhythm of your work, or the spark of vitality as you glide across the dance floor. He is the insistent drumbeat of the wild hunt, tearing through the night skies and dancing round a sacred bonfire, and the quiet stillpoint where you face your own darkness and mortality. He is the one who rises to fall, then in triumph to rise again.

Consider the Circle, this round temple under the night sky and beneath the radiant sun, this energetic expression of our worldview. The Circle surrounds us. It arcs over us, and dips below us. We are encapsulated by energy, both to keep our energy within, and to keep the spirit equivalents of “rubber-neckers” away. It takes a lot to build this Circle, to have all the pieces in place, and you really only notice that because when you begin to bring it down there is an energetic domino effect. You pull that energetic string or shift that energetic keystone and it all cascades down, returning to the earth. It’s really beautiful, this temple that is a place that is not a place, a time that is not a time, that is the same circle, that same shape, all the world over.

Regular readers will know that I harp, a lot, about well-meaning Pagans who bungle interactions with the media. I’ve been happy this Autumn to get the chance to highlight some examples of Pagans using good framing when they announce their events. I’m seeing (thank the Goddess) more examples where people don’t go on about what Pagans don’t do or who Pagans don’t worship. And that’s all to the good, because, as Lakoff teaches us, when you invoke a negative frame, all that you manage to do is to reinforce that frame.

I also harp a lot about knowing your why, being really clear on your own objectives and intent before you send out a press release or agree to be interviewed. Star Foster’s post is a great example of a Pagan discussing what it is about her Pagan religion that makes her proud. I’d love to see more of that sort of discussion in, for example, announcements concerning Pagan Pride events. What if, instead of saying, that the purpose of your local Pagan Pride Day was to educate the public about Paganism, you said that the purpose was for local Pagans to celebrate and share some of the things about Paganism that make them feel happy and proud? What if you said, as Star Foster does:

This is what Wicca means to me. This is what I’m in love with, the dance, the tension, the sorrow and the joy. It’s what I discovered as a young girl that made me feel as if I’d finally come home.

Of course, use your own words. Include examples from the broad spectrum of Pagan religions in your local area. But a day devoted to pride, ought, don’t you think, to focus on what it is about this path that you most want to celebrate? Do that, and you’ll (almost like magic) create a positive frame for your message.

Picture found here.

The Parallel Life of Undone Things

Early Autumn, between now and Samhein, is a time devoted, in my practice, to summing up my accomplishments and considering those things that I had hoped to, but didn’t, get done. (OK, and to shopping for pumpkins. G/Son and I spent a long time today looking at pumpkins and running through the local Autumn Maze (G/Son: “Nonna! It’s just like Harry Potter! There was a maze in Harry Potter!” Nonna: “I can show you a lot of mazes. Sometimes, they’re called labyrinths.”)) More than a simple tally, I try to spend time figuring out why I was able to do certain things, but unable to accomplish others. And, if I still want to accomplish those undone items, what must I restructure or revise in my life in order to be able to accomplish them? Or, am I ready to lay them aside, undone? That’s a difficult task, but it’s one that I believe real Witches and magic workers sometimes need to do.

In To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, John O’Donohue says:

Gradually over the years, a parallel life of undone things builds up. The unresolved has a lingering force and it follows us. Because this happens in the unconscious and unknown regions of our hearts, we rarely notice its effect. The undone continues to live near us; sometimes it is more powerful than what we have actually completed. What is finished lets us go free; it becomes truly part of us and is integrated and woven into memory. What remains unfinished continues to dwell in that still hungry and unformed part of the heart that could not realize itself and grow free; these gaps in our integrity stay open and hungry. This is one of the neglected areas that can be reframed by blessing

.
“Gaps in our integrity.” That’s harsh, but I like it because it’s true. And we reframe these areas by blessing, or by spell work (they’re a lot alike, although there is a fine line between them). And whether I decide, come Samhein, to recommit myself to a goal or to lay it aside for the time being, I do spell work around my decision; I attempt to approach this area with at least the integrity of honesty. Because I agree with O’Donohue that, otherwise, the unresolved has a lingering force that follows us around. I think that when you announce to the universe that you intend to do X, then you need either to do X or to explain to the universe why you didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t/won’t do X. Your ancestors, your Goddesses/Gods, you Younger Self are listening and they’ll be making decisions the next time that you show up and attempt to alter reality in accord with you Will.

This will be an interesting Autumn.

I have one very large life goal on which I made some, but not enough, progress this year. I’m going to recommit to it and do a boatload of spellwork around it. And I’m going to give myself exactly 12 months to do it on my own before I surrender and deal with it in a manner that I’ve been resisting for years.

A beloved friend recently challenged me to step up to the plate in another area of my life. (It’s the bravest and most caring thing that anyone has done for me in a long time. That’s her gift and she wears it well. That’s not to say that it doesn’t cost her or that those of us blessed by it don’t owe her. She has touched me; I have grown. That’s maybe the most wonderful thing that you can say about a friend.) I’ve begun daily work on that and I’m doing (and imagine that I’ll continue to do) spell work in that area, too. For a long time.

The Tower Card showed up with full force in another area of my life and, surprise!, it’s been the most liberating thing to happen to me in ages. It’s clarified for me exactly what I want, what I don’t want, and what I’m no longer willing to accept as “good enough” in that area. Now, all I have to do is create what I do want. Easier said than done, but it’s easier once you admit that what’s been wasn’t good enough and that you’ve got a job ahead of you.

I always go on a bit of a tear before Samhein to get things cleared up, cleaned up, stowed away. Closets and drawers get cleaned out. I’ve been donating clothing and “stuff” right and left. (Renewed commitment: I will think long and hard before I acquire. Anything. I’m 55. Is this something that I want Son and DiL to have to dispose of?) The garden needs to be cleaned up and put to bed for the coming Winter. (My garden is a goal that I’ve had for most of my life. It’s now 90% of the way “there.” The last 10% is the trickiest. I want to do real magic around it.) I lay in a supply of ice melt, bring in the snow shovel, rotate my Yaxtraxs (because I am EXACTLY like those cool kids doing snowboarding when I inch my old-woman way to the car over the icy ground) to the front of the closet, have my furnace checked, bring firewood inside, locate my car’s ice scraper, prepare to deal with days of ice-enforced staying at home.

I’ve kept journals since I was in my late teens. (And I’ve made careful arrangements in my will for their disposition, unread, by a friend whom I trust implicitly.) One thing that I do on my birthdays is to reread my journals. That magical act does two things for me. First, it inspires such tenderness within me for my younger (and Younger) self. She was trying as hard as she could, often against some pretty serious odds. Rather than beating up on her for her errors and those things that she didn’t manage to do, I spend time amazed at what she managed to accomplish and am inspired to bless her back through time. Second, it gives me hope. When I look back at all the goals and objectives that my y/Younger self had, I can see how, over time, she/I did manage to achieve most of them, often against some rather serious odds. And if she/I did that, then I can certainly achieve X, or Y, or Z.

What’s on your agenda for this liminal time between now and Samhein? Is there something that one more big push could accomplish? Do you keep journals? What do they tell you about your ability to achieve your goals? Would magic help?

Conversations with Columbia: Part Four


It’s fascinating to me, in so many ways, how Paganism has grown and changed in the few short decades since, just about the time that I was born, Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner reintroduced it to the Western world. In some ways, the Witchcraft that I practice today, on the banks of the Potomac River, is as different from Gardnerian Wicca as Gerald Gardner’s practice was from rituals enacted by the builders of Stonehenge (and we know very little about their practice. But I’m willing to bet it had no borrowings from Crowley, although Crowley may, or may not, have stumbled upon some of theirs. And round and round and round we go.) And, yet, there is something profoundly ancient and connected that everyone feels when they set the soles of their feet and the far-focused cells of their eyes upon THE LAND. And, at that level, what I do in 21st Century America — what Valiente did in 20th Century England, what my great-great-many-times-great grandmother did in a cave in ancient Sweden — has always been “the same” religion (even when, for my Methodist grandmother, it took place in a small church at the foot of the Rockies, making music on an old and wheezey organ).

One way that Paganism is growing/changing/morphing/transmuting is to become, in many ways, more local. If you read books from the 1970s/1980s, you’ll see a Paganism focused upon either the Old Goddesses/Gods of Britain or upon some other particular pantheon, often Kermetic or Greco-Roman. And my own personal opinion, which is mine, is that those Goddesses/Gods aren’t going anywhere. They’re growing stronger and more present and will continue to be so — as will the Hindu/Buddhist pantheons, and the increasingly modernized loa out of Africa, and a resurgence of some of the Goddesses/Gods of the American SouthWest/South American pantheon. And, that’s the thing. Earth is crammed, not a someone once said, with Heaven, but with Goddesses/Gods. But for a growing group of modern Pagans, Earth is crammed with local Goddesses/Gods, with Goddesses/Gods adapted to local practice.

And, for a growing group of modern Pagans, the Goddess Columbia is coming to represent that devotion to local practice. Columbia is a modern (as in, from the last 300 years or so) American Goddess. While her roots run back to Libertas and forwards to Marianne, (and, as my trance work with her has shown, back to the sovereignty of the land that the ancient cave bears embodied for Arhturian England), she exists today as a symbol of what is and can be good about America.

On Independence Day 2011, I did a series of trance workings with Columbia to learn more about her. I live only a few miles from her giant statue (entitled Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace) atop the United States Capitol. I see her every morning as I come across the Potomac River, leaving my Witch’s cottage and putting on the robes of a lawyer. She stands silhouetted against every sunset I see when I leave work on the Hill or dinner with friends. More than that, her statue stands on my altar, I come into sacred space meditating upon the base of her shield and her sandaled feet in the waters of the Potomac and the office buildings and bodegas of my City. And I felt that I needed to know her better, to get to know Who She Is, to learn, as I still need to do, her story.

I’ve recounted in prior posts how she revealed herself to me: Green Woman (High Priestess), Cave Bear (Queen of Pentacles), Ecstasy (Five of Cups).

I understood Columbia as Cave Bear (Often linked to Arthurian legend, the Bear remains a symbol of the power and protection of the land. Reading Points: Richness and plenty surround you. Your bounty and welcoming nature make you popular with all. Many depend on you, and your natural sensuality makes you powerfully attractive to others. Pragmatism and generosity open doorways at every point).

And I understood Columbia as Green Woman (In the Arthurian tradition, she validates the kingship of Arthur by bringing him the sacred sword, and establishes him as the guardian of the Hallows of Britain, sometimes appearing as the Lady of the Lake, who fosters . . . Arthur himself as well as the young hero Lancelot. In other stories, she manifests as the Flower Bride, sought after by more than one of Arthur’s great knights and offering the deep bonds of matrimony and joy to those with whom she shares her bounty. At its heart, her sacred role is the initiator of the human individual into the realm of the Wildwood.).

Columbia surprised me when she showed up as Ecstasy: a young woman still in the full thrill of her powers, lost in the dance, still as much used by the Power as she uses the Power. I blogged about my encounter with Her as Ecstasy here.

As I often do when I pull a Tarot card that surprises me, I sat for a long time with Columbia as Ecstasy. Then, I asked: “Really? That surprises me. What else can you tell me about yourself as a young person, about yourself as Ecstasy?” Then, I pulled another card. I pulled Stoat: Page of Bows. (In the Wild Wood Tarot, Bows correspond to Wands). Here’s what “the book” says:

MEANING: With a fierce hunting instinct and its ability to live underground, combined with the changing colour of its fur from white to red and its black tail (the three sacred colors of the ancient world), the Stoat has strong mystical links to the sovereignity of the land.

READIND POINTS: Often, you are seen as an emissary and, as such, your gifts are widely recognized and honored. Your ability to perceive the truth in almost any matter is vastly helpful and your freedom of spirit marks you out as an original and unique personality.

Wikipedia says that the stoat: “[I]s listed among the 100 “world’s worst alien invasive species”. And, “The root word for ‘stoat’ is likely either the Belgic word stout, meaning ‘bold,’ or the Gothic word stautan, meaning ‘to push.'” Sounds right to me.

So, there you are. Sovereignity of the Land tied into the youthful spirit of a Page. Freedom of Spirit tied into something original. A tendency to invasiveness. Columbia could hardly be more clear.

This sweet Goddess is still finding herself, finding her followers, finding a way to Be in a Land to which She was transported, where she wears a blanket, but also blood, from the First People here (as the Goddesses/Gods of Britain wear blood from the First Peoples there whom they pushed under the Hills). And, when you think about it, Aint’ that America?

A devotee of this Goddess, I’m figuring it out along with Her and I cherish her willingness to admit that She’s still working it out with a rattle, dancing in a circumscribed circle. I’m going to have to spend some time figuring out what this means in terms of Her worship, in terms of what it means for her erstwhile priestess on the banks of the Potomac. What are your thoughts?

I have one more post in this series. Stay tuned.

Picture found here.

Practicing a Nature Religion


You can be a Christian if you believe that Jesus was the son of the Christian god and that he died to save you from your sins. And even if you only go to church on Easter and Christmas, and even if you seldom pray to the Christian god, well, you’re a Christian. You’re maybe not a devout Christian, but you’re a Christian.

And you can be a Witch even if you only practice on the 8 Sabbats. There are a lot of Pagans like that. They go out into the woods or go to a festival on at least some of the Quarter and Cross Quarter days. They have a good time and a bit of an ecstatic experience, and then they go “back” to being average American consumers, people too busy watching tv, going to two jobs, feeding their kids, and cheering their sports teams to bother much with nature religion. And maybe they’re not devout Pagans, but they’re Pagans.

But some of us want more. I do. I want to be a Witch every minute of every day. Dreaming under my heavy covers. Waking up to another day of work, gardening, drinking tea picked by someone I’ll never know in a country far away, blogging, commuting, breathing, grounding, centering, going to the toy store with G/Son, doing conference calls, writing briefs, sitting at my altar, walking on the treadmill, visiting with family and friends, engaging in social networking, being a member of the body politic.

What does it mean: to be a member of a nature religion EVERY DAY and not just on the high holy days when you find yourself dancing naked in the forest (not that that’s anything but wonderful)? For me, it means, whenever it’s at all humanly possible, spending some time outside. I do bring some nature inside. There are potted plants in my office and my home. There are stones and feathers and a jar of rain water on my altar. There’s a fruit bowl on my kitchen counter and there’s a tiny cloth bag of elderberry blossoms hanging from the rear-view mirror of my car. But bringing nature inside is, IMHO, a poor substitute for taking myself out into nature and simply spending time, simply being in relationship.

I’m lucky to have a screen porch that lets me be “outside” even in rather extreme weather. I’ve wrapped up and gone out there in the worst blizzard of the last 80 years, in thunder and lightening, in some of the worst heat ever. And whenever the weather allows, I go outside and spend time at my altar rock, deep in my woodland garden, surrounded by Japanese temple pines, an ancient maple tree, magnolias, ferns, toad lilies, voodoo lilies, day lilies, and butterbur. I do a lot of my magic out there. I often do my daily practice out there. I do Hecate’s deipnon out there.

In addition, having a garden is a practical way for me to be in regular relationship with nature, to practice a nature religion. Lately, my rain barrel has been acting up and, yes, for me, going out, stretching out on the damp ground under the euonymus bush, and fidgeting with the hose and valve of the rain barrel is my version of Matins. Laying the river stones, marked with runes, to make paths through my herb bed is as sacred a practice for me as praying the rosary is for a Catholic nun. Pulling the wood sorrel out of the rain-loosened ground is my version of preaching the gospel. (Repent! Wood sorrel! Repent! Go thou and do not infest Hecate’s herb bed, this I say unto you!) Feeding the squirrels who live here and the multiple families of cardinals, the bossy blue jays, the really stupid morning doves, the robins who show up for every watering of the garden is as sacred to me as doing good works is for any Christian.

My day begins in the middle of my garden, having breakfast on the porch. It ends in my garden, pulling weeds, spreading mulch, moving the sprinkler, wrapping a shawl over my bathrobe and going out one more time to see the stars, the Moon, the garden at night. In between, I drive beside the beautiful Potomac River to go to work, water the potted plants in my office, send love to the fey-filled Spout Run.

How do you practice a nature religion? Are you able to do so in a city? A suburb? At the beach? In the mountains? How often are you able to do it?

This!


You have got to read this. No, really. And then you need to email it around, bookmark it, print it out and leave it on people’s chairs. While the author is an aethist and is discussing the issue from within the activist atheist community, it applies with absolutely equal force to Paganistan, both Pagan blogistan and the embodied Pagan community.

I love, especially, two of the author’s points. First:

When women explain to you — in a calm, nuanced, proportionate way — that there are some contexts in which your advances are less likely to be well-received than others, and you respond by sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming about ball-busting, man-hating feminists who are hell-bent on eradicating all flirting and sex and eroding your First Amendment right to proposition any woman at any time and place? When you resist hearing that hitting on a woman who’s alone in an elevator in a strange city at four o’clock in the morning is not likely to be well-received, that it’s likely to be perceived as a potential threat, and that you are likely to be perceived as an insensitive clod at best if you do it? When we explain ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times, that elevators are well-documented as a common place for women to get raped and that it’s therefore not an appropriate place to make sexual advances — and you still reply, “But I don’t understand what the problem is with elevators”?

I have to assume that getting laid is not the point.

I have to assume that the point is something entirely different. I have to assume that you will do anything to resist hearing that women experience male advances in a very different context from the way men experience female advances. I have to assume that you have an active resistance to understanding that women’s experiences are different from men’s: that (among other things) women routinely get our professional/ intellectual/ artistic accomplishments dismissed in favor of a focus on our sexual attractiveness, and that women have to be seriously cautious about physical and sexual violence from men. When you are so vehemently unwilling to see some of the ways that privilege works in your favor, I have to assume that maintaining privilege is the point.

Even if it reduces your chances of getting laid.

(emphasis added).

And second:

I know there are women in the atheist movement who are reluctant to point out examples of sexism. I know there are women who have raised this issue in the past and got a faceful of backlash for it, and now… well, they don’t regret it exactly, but they’re wary as hell about doing it again. And I know that a lot of us — women and men — are exhausted by this issue, and passionately wish it would just go away.

In fact, when I’m in a cynical, pessimistic mood, I often think that this exhaustion is part of the point. The really grossly sexist men — not the genuinely well-meaning men who don’t yet get this stuff and are struggling with it, but the seriously hostile, hateful, deeply entrenched in their misogyny men — are trying to get us so sick of the backlash, and so daunted by the prospect of having to deal with it one more freaking time, that we don’t ever want to bring it up again. They are trying to wear us down.

Once upon a time, in a baby-blue blogiverse, far, far away, one of the men used (and not for the first time) the term “pussy” to refer disparagingly to another man. Several of the women suggested that this was inappropriate. First, it disparaged a lovely part of women’s bodies and, perhaps even worse, it turned being a woman into an insult. The man fought back, and fought back, and fought back, and fought back (and, truth be told, is still, covertly and in a pretend “ha, ha, I’m making a joke about myself so you shouldn’t really complain and if you do, you’re taking things too personally and acting like a “queen bee” on the blog, and why ARE feminists so humorless?” kind of way, fighting for his privilege). No matter how many people (both women and men) explained to him why the term was inappropriate and hurtful, he continued, for months, to fight back. No matter how many people suggested that he’d never fight for the privilege of insulting white people by telling them not to “act so black,” or for the privilege of insulting European-Americans by calling them “Indian Givers,” he continued to fight back. And at some point, the only conclusion that anyone could reach is that he would absolutely fight forever to defend the male privilege of using womanhood as an insult. Male privilege, and his ability to wield it, mattered a hell of a lot more to him than almost anything else. And that’s one of the points that I think Greta Christina makes, brilliantly.

Here’s the thing. When you’re the colonizer, when you’re the person acting from a position of privilege, by definition you’re not going to see right away what’s wrong with what you did. Presumably, at least before being told, you wouldn’t have acted that way if you’d understood that it was hurtful, perpetuated sexism, endorsed homophobia, was racist, etc. And when you’re first called on it, your initial reaction, unless you’ve trained yourself, will be to be defensive, to insist that you didn’t “mean anything by it,” to claim that it’s “just an expression,” or “just a joke.” And those of us who are colonized, we get that. And so, when we can, we will speak up and tell you that what you said or did is wrong and we’ll tell you why. And then, you need to get that. And when you absolutely go out of your way and make yourself ridiculous not to get that, well, it’s pretty clear to us where your loyalties lie, what your priorities are, how much your privilege matters to you.

I’ve been there. Here’s (just one) example: For a long time, I used the expression “free, white, and twenty-one” in what I considered an ironic sense and thought that I was just being witty. You know: “Well, if you want to buy that dress, you should buy it. After all, you’re ‘free, white, and 21,'” or “If you want to order the appetizer, go ahead and order it. You’re ‘free, white, and 21.'” After all, no one could possibly imagine that I was a racist and certainly my tone of voice made clear that I was being ironic, and . . . . And then an African American friend of mine told me that it hurt her whenever I said that in her company. And my first, internal reaction was, “Oh, don’t be so sensitive. You know me. You know that I’m on your side. It’s just a witticism; in fact, I use it ironically.” But, because, as a woman and a Pagan, I have some experience being colonized, I decided to stop, meditate about what she’d said, and consider whether it was worth it to me to hurt my friend in order to keep being witty. And while I’ll never completely get the way that my friend gets what’s wrong with what I was doing, I decided that it wasn’t worth it to me to hurt her (or others, or to perpetuate a hurtful expression) in order to continue to wield my privilege as a white person. I’m (in my own mind) a pretty witty broad. I can find other ways to express myself and, as Sara Teasdale said, “buy it and never count the cost.” And I’m willing to empathize from my own experience and understand that I may not be capable of understanding, but I am capable of controlling what I say and do, when my privilege is brought to my attention. And, Goddess knows, there are still jillions of ways in which I act and speak from my own privilege and don’t even notice it.

I take Greta Christina’s second point, as well. In the incident that I described above, long after everyone else on the blog (weeks and weeks and months and months) was ready to just let the incident drop, the man defending male privilege followed a number of the outspoken women from thread to thread, topic to topic, hounding them about their having dared to call him out. Again, at some point, the only conclusion one could reach was that he was setting examples, making it clear to other women that there was a cost for daring to call out sexism, that if they did so, they could expect to be hounded forever. It’s the way the colonizers act when the colonized dare to speak up. And it has a clear objective: to shut down any criticism of the colonizers. It didn’t work over at the baby blue blog and, as Greta Christian notes:

So to those of you who are trying to shut us up: Knock it off. You’re making it worse. If you really are well-meaning and are genuinely trying to stop atheism from getting broken by huge fights… it’s not working. The more you try to shut us up, the more thousand-plus comment threads you’re going to get. So please don’t throw gasoline on the flames. Please help us move this thing forward.
And to those of you who are bringing this up:
Keep up the good work. Thanks.

Really, you need to click the link, head over to her blog, read the whole thing, email it around, post it on your facebook page, mail it to your crazy brother-in-law, read it and look in the mirror.

/hat tip to my beloved friend V.

Picture found here.

Now Is the Winter of Our Disconent


I’m going to make some counter-intuitive arguments here, and I’ll start off stipulating (as we lawyers do) to a number of points.

Stipulations: First, I’m old and I realize that my (pre-internet!) experience of Wicca, from a time when you could hardly find any information on it and had to seek, do detective work, depend on luck, really want to find out about Wicca!, and hunt high and low for Pagan groups, is not the experience of most modern Wiccans. I think that my experience had some deep (and now mostly-ignored) benefits to it, although I realize that those times made it difficult for many people, especially those outside of major urban areas, to connect. They kept me a Solitary for many years.

Second, no matter what I say in this post, I believe that modern Paganism is moving towards having “buildings,” whether we call those buildings “temples,” or “community centers,” or whatever. (I hope we don’t call them “churches,” but that’s happening, as well.) That move will have its good points and its bad points, but it is where I think we are headed. I had the opportunity earlier this year to talk with Byron Ballard, whose group has now obtained a building, about both the pros and cons of this movement. I’m indebted to her for her insights, and for the insights of others who were in on the conversation.

Third, I’m not a “festival Pagan,” a “public ritual Pagan,” or even (it’s true, see, e.g., my gravatar) a very nice person. I love the idea of Pagan festivals, but I’m an INTJ, (with my Sun in leaky Pisces and my Moon in stay-at-home, comfort-loving Taurus) and, I’ve finally come to realize, a poor traveler and an even worse camper (The Four Seasons. I like to camp at the Four Seasons. But I’d rather be at home, except for the whole room service thing.) Large groups of people drain me, in rather serious ways. I’ve been to some local public rituals, and I’ve enjoyed them. But they’re far less meaningful to me that the rituals of my own, closed Circle. And I have to remain in the broom closet for my job. Both large public rituals and Pagan conferences endanger that, especially as rules about who can take pictures/video and what they can do with them are often non-existent or observed more in the breach than anything else. (Sacred Space, I’m looking at you.) And then there’s the whole leaky Pisces thing. So my experience of Witchcraft comes almost entirely from my practice, for decades, as a Solitary Witch and from my practice, over the past decade+, with a closed Circle of eclectic Witches. And I’ll freely stipulate that these things make me unusual, perhaps, in the larger Pagan community.

Fourth, as I’ll explain below, I believe that Pagan groups other than Witches may have more reasons for wanting/needing buildings than do Witches. Druids, Members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, Freemasons, Heathens, and others may well have less reason to avoid buildings than do Witches. I get that.

Finally, I’ll add that one of the things that I love about Paganism is its eclectic nature. Let, a la China 1957, a hundred flowers bloom. (Yeah, I know that didn’t last in China, and I’m afraid that it won’t last another century or so in Paganism, and maybe that’s a natural cycle. But I love it.) Don’t like your coven? Hive off. Want to worship an obscure deity? Have at it! Love to write your own rituals, develop your own tradition, sunder from the established group? Blessed Be. It’s why, inter alia, we say, “Merry Meet, and Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again.” Part and be merry! Change your mind later and meet back up again! But it’s not conducive to building churches.

Arguments: So, with all of the above stipulations firmly stipulated, here’s where I’m going to say something less-than-popular: I’ve got no burning desire to see Pagan Community Centers get established.

/stands up, spreads arms, awaits thrown rotten tomatoes.

If there are other Pagans who want them, I wish them all the luck in the world. I do.

But I don’t see that we need them; I see serious downsides to having them; and I’m not working or donating to create them. And when they can’t be maintained, due, perhaps as much the craptastic economy as to anything else, I’m willing to see them mutate or disappear.

I’m sorry.

I’m not saying that if you’re working to maintain or establish one you’re wrong or that I don’t hope you succeed, because, see above re: hundreds of flowers.

But part of what drew me (and I get that, like Zuzanna Budapest, I’m part of a dying generation) to Witchcraft was its subversive nature. My conversion had a lot to do with the notion that religion, mystical experience, feminism, an attack on the structures of Patriarchy, and a sacrilization of the politics of protest could be practiced outside the boundaries of “acceptable” religion. Ellen Everet Hopman, once told me that the difference between a Druid and a Witch was that Druids worked within society, advising Queens and King and helping to form laws, while Witches were those crazy old women who recognized no laws and lived out in the liminal spaces between the village and the forest, doing wild magic that threatened the social order. And every cell in my body, lawyer that (by day) I am, cried out, “And that’s why I’m a Witch and not a Druid.” And subversive groups, well, they do better meeting at midnight in forests, congregating in members’ homes, convening in coffee houses or rented library rooms where no one really knows what they’re up to. They do better showing up outside the Supreme Court to scatter enchanted birdseed for the local pigeons (and then disappearing), law being an Airy business, than they do as law-abiding tenants, renting out a store-front and trying to act legitimate. AND WHEN THEY GET RESPECTABLE, START OWNING BUILDINGS, BECOME MEMBERS OF THE LOCAL MERCHANTS’ LEAGUE, WELL, THAT’S WHEN THEY STOP BEING SUBVERSIVE.

And so, I do see how, for Druids, for example, or ceremonial magicians, or Heathens, etc., it can be more important to have one central location than it is to be outside of the usual social constructs of landowners, associations, fundraisers. And there is a sense in which working together to find, purchase or rent, and maintain a central location can bind a group and create a community connection. And prickly old Witches aren’t too good at that, but maybe Celtic Reconstructions are (OK, I crack myself up, but you know what I mean).

But, having a building requires that a serious portion of your efforts (and in difficult economic times, an even larger portion of your efforts) go towards funding the building, paying for its upkeep, raising money to keep it in existence, governing its use. And I can hear some of the frustration related to that creeping into recent posts by those who are working — as they believe, for all of “Us” — to found or maintain Pagan buildings. It’s easy to underestimate how much work such centers take, how draining they can be for the few who do all the work of establishing and maintaining them, how bitter they can wind up feeling. I’ve known Christian churches where having fundraisers, and pledge drives, and business plans for the Building Fund became far more important than feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, preaching the Gospel, or enjoying fellowship. It’s difficult, it is, to work on maintaing a building and to also challenge the status quo, be in relationship with Nature, do a daily practice, and, as we (rightly, IMHO) require most Pagan leaders to also do, to earn a living.

Having a building also requires a bunch of rules (and if you don’t think so, you’ve never dealt with an insurance company or a landlord). No drinking or drugs, no Great Rites, no minors, no animals, no fires (and that means candles and incense and small fires under a caldron, and . . . .) It requires someone to decide which group gets Samhein (well, we reserved way last year, well we have more members and can pay more, well, we’re the group that founded the community center, well we had it last year, well it’s our turn, well the rest of you always discriminate agains those of us who . . . .) And Witch Wars waste more energy than anything else I know.

OTOH, renting. for a day. a local community center, meeting out in the woods, and (IMHO, best of all) meeting in members’ homes and yards, is cheaper, can be done on an as-needed-and-as-can-be-affored basis, only requires obedience to the local rules (or disobedience, if you so choose), and leads to better magic and deeper (although less accessible) community. Not having a designated space makes you be creative. If we’re doing a ritual to influence this session’s Supreme Court, what if we meet outside the court? If we’re engaged in magic to protect the landbase, let’s do our ritual at the local waste treatment plant. If we’re going to cast a spell to protect reproductive freedom, what if we circle the local abortion clinic three times three? If we need to connect with local trees, what if we meet outside the local arboretum? BTW, where DO they store the local voting machines that we’re worried may get hacked? Where IS Selena’s chemo going to be administered? The bank that’s holding up Robin’s loan is located just outside the B4 bus stop. One of our members is old and infirm and finds it helpful if we meet at her house so she doesn’t need to travel.

In the end, for me, it comes down to Witchcraft being a deeply personal practice, to my preference for magic done between and among a group of closely-connected, experienced-with-each-other magic workers, to a desire to remain outside the structures of a quickly-toppling social construct, to having no time for the million details that chew up hours when you’re trying to maintain a building.

I get that a Pagan community center can do some of the things that a local esoteric book store (now replaced by the internet) used to do. (But the internet does do a lot of those things, already.) I get that for Millenials, etc., it can provide a place to connect in “meat space,” and to offer classes, rituals, lectures at the same place each time, rather than in a shifting series of library lecture rooms, rented government centers, and downstairs church basements.

Interestingly, Christians, who’ve perfected the business of owning buildings, are now experiencing a movement away from churches and into the homes of their members. As noted above, I think that Pagans are, will we or nil we, headed into a period of building buildings. And I’m sure that whatever results will be interesting.

But this weekend, my Circle is meeting at my home. And part of my deepest spiritual practice will be, this weekend as many weekends during the year, cleaning my home in preparation for the priestesses, preparing the garden and the outdoors altar, polishing the silver, chilling the wine, making tea, creating a sacred meal, opening a serene and restorative space, and then welcoming Witches (Witches!) into my home. Earlier this week, we met at one of my Sisters’ homes, and I had the opportunity to give reiki to her pet, admire her garden, eat at her table, and discuss in complete privacy with my Sisters what we want to achieve. And that’s where I want to be.

YMMV.

Where do you meet? Are you working towards/currently supporting a temple or community center? What do you think are the benefits or downsides of such places? Are we heading towards having temples?

Picture found here.

As Opposed to the Way that the World Really Works