Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I've had a lot of great feedback from women with children lately. That makes me feel particularly good; though our lifestyles are different, we do share much in common, and we respect one another's life choices. It's wonderful to get feedback from women with children who appreciate things I've written on the subject of motherhood, as it's not something I will ever experience, and I like to know that not only have I struck a chord, but I'm not treading on anyone's toes by expressing my feelings on the matter.

As a childfree person, I think parenthood is a very big and very important job. One of the reasons I don't want kids myself is the amount of time and energy I feel should be spent on one's children. For a parent, raising children will always come first: teaching them, expanding their range of experiences, attuning to their needs and wants, balancing play with learning. Music, sport, language, trivia. If this is what you want as a part of your life, I salute you for it - it's very important for society at large that love, time and energy are invested into raising the next generation by dedicated, wise parents.

The amount of energy I feel should be invested into raising sprogs is not something I personally feel able to invest, and as such, I would not want to be a poor parent by investing less than I feel necessary. And it's something I see quite a bit in the childfree community: parenthood is considered something important, and therefore, something that should be reserved for those who want to do it and will put the effort into doing it well.

Thence comes the term "breeder". Within the CF world it is often used pejoratively to refer to parents who do a poor job of parenting, and don't care. A breeder invests genetic material, but not the time or energy required to raise children who are well-mannered and intelligent. A breeder has children for the wrong reasons (to save a marriage, because they want something to dress up, to have something that will love them, because "that's what we do"). A breeder is not willing to shoulder the responsibility that parenthood. A breeder will not discipline his or her children, and affects outrage when someone points out that their sprogs are misbehaving. A breeder expects preferential treatment for herself and her children because she has procreated. A breeder has little respect for the world around him or her, and as such lets the children do as they please regardless of how offensive or destructive they are being. A breeder is selfish and disrespectful of others. A person who is having difficulty coping as a parent is not a breeder; the term applies to those who either don't notice their kids are misbehaving, or notice but think it's okay because it's their kids and they should be able to do what they like and god forbid anyone challenge them. These breeders who let their children run wild and criticise the childfree are the same people who have such little care and sympathy for those women who have difficult pregnancies, who struggle with parenting or who have suffered from PPD. They think that because their gametes collided they have accomplished something of note, something anyone should wish to accomplish, and that they should get special treatment for it.

Procreation is not difficult. People do it all the time. It is not a magical special miracle, it is a biological process. Parenthood, now, parenthood is difficult. That's why the word "parent" is reserved for those who put effort into doing it well.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


I was browsing through a blog recommended to me by an acquaintance (Childfreedom, you may have heard of it) and came across a link to this Secret Confessions page. It's full of women who became mothers for the wrong reasons: because their partner wanted a child, to make their parents happy, because they were under the impression motherhood was universally joyful, because they they were talked into it by friends. These women, by accounts, are not bad mothers; they love their kids and do right by them. But they are so very unhappy.

It's heartbreaking, and a bit frightening - there but for the grace of the gods - and the worst part, in the midst of feeling so bad for these women, is that there is no way out. This is a life decision, and if it's the wrong one it can be a life sentence.

Some bits and pieces really stood out for me, and I'll quote them, and hope the mostly-anonymous women who posted them know I feel for them and wish them the very best, and much strength.

"I love my daughter yes, but I do not like being a mom because I never wanted the title. Now my social life is ruined, my body is ruined and I’m living a life I never wanted. I don’t know if my marriage is going to last and I may just end up packing up and leaving without telling anyone where I am."
"My 6 year old sucks the life blood out of me. When I complain about her people look at me like I’m nuts – like we are all supposed to paste a smile on and pretend motherhood is the best thing on earth."
"It brings tears to my eyes to read this for two reasons: 1) I feel exactly like so many of you do, and 2) I feel we are all trapped in this existance. I love my children, but I so wish I had chosen a different path. Not to say that it would have been easier or even better… but I want more than anything to be able to disappear from my reality."
"I hate life everyday and have to lie to myself to keep going, I feel like my ambitions are faded and when I look in the mirror I don’t know who is looking back at me. Being a mother is not fulfilling like people say it is, maybe it is to them or maybe they’re lying…some people need to be needed and some of us don’t."
"I empathize with every mother here who believed what the media portrayed and others told them about how amazing it was to be a mom. I too fell for it. I am now hating life and everything that comes with being a mom."

One of the things I personally cannot stand is the negative way motherhood can impact on some women, and the lack of social support there is for those who just can't deal with it. It's all tied in to the homogeneous "Motherhood is the best thing a woman can experience" crap peddled by our societies. Even when women do speak up they are told "yes, but it's all worth it, isn't it?"; many are made to think they are not only bad mothers but bad people. Those who have a read through the link posted above will see a supposed mother (possibly a troll - one can but hope) saying these mothers expressing their angst and frustration at a life they did not want should have their children taken away by Child Protective Services. So they're forced to put the mask back on and maintain the lie that motherhood is always rewarding. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


What is Wicca?

Many will tell you that it is "whatever you want it to be". Others will tell you it is another word for witchcraft. Still others might say it is a particular Pagan religion with a lot of room for personal expression.

I disagree with all these people.

Like many others, I started out in Paganism with books that claimed witchcraft was a religion. Many used the words "witchcraft" and "Wicca" interchangeably. I thought, as these books had told me, that I was a Wiccan. I was wrong. And so were the books I was reading. It came as a shock to me to learn, in my teen years, that non-fiction books were capable of lying to me. I was under the impression that facts were checked before publication. For some publishers, apparently, this isn't considered important.

So I had learned, way back when, that books on Neo-Paganism were capable of being full of shit. I was still, however, unaware of the reality of what Wicca truly was. I was unaware for ages after I stopped identifying as a Wiccan. And for this reason, when I finally discovered Wicca, some five or six years after discovering Paganism, I wasn't cast into a sort of identity crisis. Instead, once I absorbed what I had discovered, I was fascinated. And it is important for me to share this information with you, not just because the misinformation on Wicca is so rife and so widespread, but because Wicca is such a fascinating and amazing religion, and it saddens me that so few people are actually aware of it.

From what I have read and learned over the past five or so years, it is apparent to me that Wicca is an orthopraxic, oath-bound, initiatory, experiential, coven-based, fertility-focused, ditheistic mystery witch-cult, in which all members are clergy of a lineaged tradition. I will go into detail as to what all these mean in relation to Wicca, and occasionally provide some quotes from Gardner to illustrate what I'm saying.

Some religions are known as "orthodox", "correct belief". If you believe the right things, you're a member of that religion. This applies to, for example, wider Christianity, and various sects therein; if you believe Christ is your Lord and Saviour, you are a Christian (although not necessarily a very good Christian).

Wicca, as a religion, is orthopraxic - "right practice" rather than "right belief". There is a "correct way" to do things in such a religion; you have to know what these things are and do them properly to be a part of that religion. Wicca works along these lines. There are specific ways to make and consecrate, and yes, use, particular tools. There are specific ways to cast and consecrate a circle in Wicca and invoke deities and perform ritual. These things are part of what is referred to as "the Core"; you can add to it, according to the rules of Wicca, but not take away from the core. If you do, it ceases to be Wicca.

You need to be initiated into a Wiccan coven to know this orthopraxy, because Wicca is Oathbound.

Much of what defines Wicca as a religion (which, as we have seen, is orthopraxy) is oathbound. Each Wiccan, upon initiation, swears an oath to keep secret the orthopraxy of Wicca unless to a person who is "a proper person, properly prepared"*. This means it is only taught to others if they have been initiated. The oath is considered very important, and very serious - you are expected to keep it even if you leave Wicca as a religion. Those who break it are ostracised (though I have never heard of an individual breaking oath, save Buckland, who apparently came close enough that he is very much disliked by many Wiccans).

This oath means that Wicca is not in books. There are books about Wicca, perhaps detailing what it involves from an outside perspective, perhaps giving an idea of what Wicca is like with similar rituals and concepts, but no published book and no website contains any actual Wiccan material. Generally, what you see is Wicca-flavoured information, often Pagan and often witchcraft, but not Wiccan itself. This information is described as "Outer-Court". This is foundation info, relevant to any number of witchcraft traditions or forms of Neo-Paganism, but it is not Wicca. Outer-court information is taught to Seekers before initiation as a grounds upon which they can build, and what an Outer-court entails will differ from coven to coven.

As to why this information is published under the name of Wicca when it isn't Wicca at all... it depends. For some publishers, it's about money. Wicca sells, so "Wicca" is what people get. Eclectic Neo-Paganism doesn't sell; it's not pithy enough. For some authors, they have learned from books that said Wicca is another word for witchcraft, or whatever you want it to be, or similar... they learned it this way, and when they come to write a book themselves, they pass on this misinformation. At this point we're several decades deep in people spreading misinformation that they learned from books written by people who learned from books full of misinformation. They have been genuinely misled, and go on to mislead others.

Gardner mentions the fact that Wicca's rites are oathbound on page 24 of Witchcraft Today:

If I were permitted to disclose all their rituals, I think it would be easy to prove that witches are not diabolists; but the oaths are solemn and the witches are my friends. I would not hurt their feelings. They have secrets which to them are sacred. They have good reason for this secrecy.

This means that it is a religion practised in a group, that one needs to be formally brought into via initiation. In this case specifically, a Wiccan coven lineaged through initiation to the New Forest Coven into which Gardner was initiated, or more often, to Gardner himself. This initiation brings one into the religion, and declares one as a witch and a priest or priestess. It introduces one formally to the gods. Initiation in Wicca is absolutely essential; even were you to obtain Wiccan rituals and oathbound Wiccan information, as a non-initiate you would not be "properly prepared", and not ever able to fully understand it. The fact that Wicca is initiatory means that, however wonderful one's faith, if you haven't been initiated into a coven that traces its initiatory lineage (High Priestess --> High Priest --> HPS --> Gardner) all the way back to Gardner, then you are not a Wiccan.

Gardner himself stressed the importance of initiation:

Witch meetings today may take place anywhere that it is convenient, and only people who have been initiated into the cult are allowed to be present.
-- Gerald Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft, pg 16

I take simply to mean that they were told, "If you want to come again, you must be one of us, that is, be initiated, initiation is a requirement for membership and then you will be a fairy". Now in France, as in Scotland, a large number of people spoke of 'fairies" when they obviously meant witches. It was a more polite term, and in Scotland any communication with "fairies" was taken as an admission of dealing with witches, that is, with the "heathen", the People of the Heaths, who practised the Old Religion and worked magical rites.
  -- Gerald Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft, pg 120

Wiccan initiations, along with other Wiccan rituals, are experiential and impart mysteries.
(We'll go over these at the same time as they are interrelated.)

Mystery religions, such as Wicca, are centred around the teaching and re-creating of experiences called "Mysteries". A Mystery is an experience that changes you and your perceptions; it alters you forever. Mysteries aren't specific to Mystery-religions - every religion will involve them at some level, and every person has experienced them in their lives. Mysteries can be small, or they can be huge. A sunrise can be a Mystery, in fact several Mysteries; it is different depending on whether you stay up for it or wake up early to experience it. In Heathenry, the Runes are Mysteries. In his book "Living Wicca" (ironically, as you will have discovered by now, not actually about Wicca), Scott Cunningham details a particular Mystery, that of watching an apple tree grow. Those interested in the concept of Mysteries may find his example helpful.

Mysteries cannot be told or explained in words; instead, they must be understood through experiencing them. Someone can tell you about a Mystery in words, and you can nod and think you get it. Then, years later, you will experience something that causes an epiphany and suddenly you actually get it, on a deep, soul-deep level, and you understand it with all of yourself. You grok it, inside and out.

A Mystery-religion is one structured around a series of Mysteries, and recreating these for the initiate. The rituals are built to impart a Mystery and practised the same way each time in order to do this properly; they are experiential. This means that the teachings and Mysteries are transferred over via experiencing these rituals; the things taught via experiential rituals cannot be taught in words. The beliefs a Wiccan holds, therefore, are based on what they have experienced during Wicca; as I've mentioned before, Wicca is more about practice than belief, and this is why. Without the training and context given by a Wiccan coven, these rituals will not impart the Mysteries in the same way, so the rituals by themselves will be of no use to you... or at least, will not be useful in learning Wicca. A different ritual will impart different Mysteries, which is fine - but only Wiccan rituals will impart Wiccan Mysteries, and thus these rituals are the only way to experience - and therefore to learn - Wicca.

"Ye may not be a witch alone", say the Ardanes*. Well, a witch, you certainly can - a Wiccan, certainly not. Entirely aside from the fact that you cannot initiate yourself, the rituals of Wicca are structured in such a way that they cannot actually be performed without a couple of other people. The coven is therefore absolutely necessary to the practise of Wicca, and some people will travel hours to meet with their coven for each ritual and celebration.

Even if you have been initiated into a coven, and experienced the rituals, you cannot in a real sense practise Wicca alone. You are a Wiccan, certainly, and what you do on your own time may be worshipping the gods of Wicca and it may be heavily influenced by Wiccan material and what you do in coven, but it is not in itself Wiccan practice. Wicca is simply made to be performed in a group, and there's no way around it.

Wicca is not, as many would have you believe, "nature-based". Its primary focus is specifically fertility. It is fertility that Wiccans honour, and not the earth or generalised nature. Fertility is indeed a part of nature, and it is through the lens of fertility that other aspects of nature are recognised in Wicca. The cycle of birth, sex, death and rebirth are involved, and as humans we subjectively understand fertility through our own bodies. For this reason, sex is involved.

Not necessarily intercourse, you understand. But certainly there is a lot to do with sex in Wicca. It's very difficult to have fertility without sex. Wiccan rites do contain sexual activity and sexual context. This context is such that a non-initiate may not recognise an element of a Wiccan (or even Outer-court) rite as being sexual in and of itself. It can be subtle. However, it can also be overt; the Great Rite itself, an element of third degree initiation, involves intercourse. Rituals are nearly always performed naked. First-degree initiation involves the five-fold kiss, including mouth to genital contact.

This underlying and essential sexual content is one of the reasons minors are not initiated into Wicca. That level of personal and emotional maturity is essential, as well as for legal reasons. It is also a reason why Wicca does not appeal to a lot of people. If sexual elements of rituals make you uncomfortable, Wicca is not the religion for you.

Wicca is a religion of two deities. It is not monotheistic, nor is it polytheistic. The deities of Wicca are not mix-and-match. These two deities have specific names, but they are referred to among non-initiates as just the God and Goddess, or the Lord and Lady (sometimes the Lord and Lady of the Isles). Importantly, these two deities are specific.

Quite a few Wiccans are soft-polytheistic, in that they believe "all gods are one God, all goddesses are one Goddess". Whether or not they feel that way (and as Wicca is orthopraxic, they have every right to), Wicca itself is in a sense hard-polytheistic, in that the deities worshipped are not interchangeable with other deities, but are very specific. They are not worshipped as archetypes, but as distinct entities. To slot a deity from a different religion into the positions occupied by these gods would change the orthopraxy of Wicca significantly, so that it would no longer be Wicca. (It would also be very rude; the gods of Wicca would have their rituals usurped, and the gods slotted into those positions would be forced into roles they would not normally occupy, perhaps even a sexual relationship with another deity they did not like!) For this reason, anything that claims to be, for example, "Celtic Wicca", simply is not.

Of course, that does not mean that a Wiccan is unable to worship other deities. The gods of Wicca are not "jealous" deities, and often Wiccans maintain relationships with other gods and goddesses outside the context of Wicca.

How Wiccans understand their gods will differ, of course, given that Wicca is experiential. An individual Wiccan might be soft-polytheistic, hard-polytheistic, monotheistic and so forth. Nevertheless, Wicca the religion is itself hard-polytheistic in that its deities are specific and unchanging.

Gardner, on his gods being specific deities of the British Isles and known truly only to initiates:
I have already told of the belief of the Wica in the Ancient Gods of these islands. This not mere superstition or a figure of speech. Initiates will understand me when I say that the Gods are real.

Of course, the Craft of the Wica is not the only group which seeks to contact the Gods. There are other occult groups which use a similar technique, and their aims are the same, namely to bring through the Divine power to help, guide and uplift mankind at this dangerous and exciting turning-point in human history.
But, so far as I know, these groups generally work with the Egyptian and Greek Gods and Goddesses, and I cannot think that these contacts are as powerful here as they would be upon their native soil; whereas the divinities of the Craft of the Wica are the Ancient Ones of Britain, part of the land itself.

 -- Gerald Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft, pgs 260-261

Gardner described his religion as a witch-cult. All Wiccans, therefore, are witches. "Cult" in this situation describes a form of religion in which observable elements of religion (ritual, devotional acts, etc) are very important; we have seen already that this is true of Wicca.

All Wiccans are considered "clergy", that is, priests and priestesses. Even a brand new initiate is clergy; there are no "lay-people" in Wicca. Every member of the religion directly serves the Lord and Lady of Wicca as priesthood. For this reason, becoming a Wiccan is a massive and life-long commitment. It is, in many ways, a job - the gods have requirements of you that you must fulfil. To a Wiccan, being a priest is not about status or whether or not you are better than someone else, but a role of service to the gods, and to other members of your coven.

This is another reason why minors are not initiated; becoming clergy is such a heavy burden and such a big commitment that it is important that each neophyte is in a position to be able to make that choice, something few teenagers are really able to do. Many covens won't even initiate until someone is at the very least 21, and often older, because of the import placed on this decision and the way one's life changes after initiation. Mental, emotional and spiritual maturity and stability are essential.

Lineaged Tradition
I've mentioned this throughout this article. "Lineage" refers to initiatory lineage, rather than blood lineage - it's who initiated you, and who initiated them, all the way back through Gardner. Gardner himself was initiated into a witch-cult we know as the New Forest Coven, and from what he learned from them coupled with what he knew from Ceremonial orders, as well as what he had read in books such as "The Golden Bough" and Murray's "God of the Witches", Gardner created what we now know as Wicca. He was, in addition, the first to use the term "Wicca" as in modern English, which he first spelt with just the one C.

Wicca as Gardner created it is known as the Gardnerian Tradition. From this traditions others broke away, differing from Gardner's Wicca in flavour or tone but maintaining the Core necessary to define themselves as Wiccan. Each can still trace their lineage of initiation back to Gardner. This is important; there are quite a few traditions of witchcraft that claim to be traditions of Wicca, and are not. Legitimate traditions of Wicca are: Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Mohsian, Central Valley, Silver Crescent, Kingstone, Daoine Coire, Assembly of Wicca, and Majestic. Some - and I stress "some" - covens of the witchcraft traditions of Blue Star and Georgian may also have legit Wiccan lineage and maintain Wiccan core, but it depends on the initiatory lines of the covens' priesthoods and whether the core of Wicca is passed on, so many Blue Star and Georgian covens are witchcraft covens, but not Wiccan covens. (I know that's a bit confusing but I felt it was important to mention.)

It's also important to note that even if a coven claims to be, for example, Alexandrian, it may not be authentically so. If one is looking for a coven to join one should always ask for information necessary to obtain an oath. The coven will then give you some form of their initiatory lineage or similar; you can take this information to a Wiccan website or mailing list such as Amber and Jet and ask if there is anyone there who can provide a vouch for the coven. (That person will then correspond with you personally to ask for the information you have obtained from the coven.) This is why lineage is considered important; it means all Wiccans are aware of who else is Wiccan if they are given their lineage, and those Seeking Wicca are able to ascertain whether the group they are thinking of joining is legit or not.

Lineage always goes "man --> woman --> man". That is to say, Wicca is "Cross-gender initiatory". If someone claims a lineage that does not follow this pattern, it's pretty clear that they are not Wiccan.

Gardner wrote on cross-gender initiation:

The witches tell me: "The law has always been that power must be passed from man to woman or from woman to man,"
 -- Gerald Gardner, Witchcraft Today, pg 69

He wrote also on vouches as a concept:

They have no regular system of passwords, that I could discover, to recognize each other by. But at initiations there were certain words required to pass you into the circle, and there are certain catchphrases that could be used as such; of course a knowledge of the mysteries would prove that you were initiated. Actually, they all know each other, or are introduced, so they do not need passwords.
-- Gerald Gardner, Witchcraft Today, pg 116

So, there we have it. That is Wicca as I understand it. After to coming to learn about Wicca, I do not and cannot consider any other religion "Wicca"; these other religions are different and distinct, and should appreciate themselves as specific religions rather than lumping themselves together under a word that does not describe them.

Those interested may look further into Wicca via the following links and ebooks:
Amber and Jet
The New Wiccan Church
Gardner's Meaning of Witchcraft
Gardner's Witchcraft Today


A Message to Those who Consider(ed) Themselves Wiccans

If you feel in any way that I have just insulted your faith somehow, please rest assured that this is not the case. I have no interest within the scope of this subject to in any way slander what you do or believe, nor do I have any interest in its validity. I am sure that whatever religion you practise, it is both valid and personally fulfilling The only issue is the word used to describe it - there's no reason to use the word "Wicca" when it's not properly applicable. 

I realise that one's sense of identity can be tied up in the words one chooses to apply to oneself or what one does, so I can understand why this sort of revelation would be unsettling or upsetting. I apologise if you feel upset or angry.

Responses to Common Rebuttals

If Gardner was initiated into a witch-cult, how did he also create Wicca?
The witch-cult into which Gardner was initiated, or at least claimed to be initiated, wasn't Wicca as we know it. The Mysteries theoretically remain the same, but the rituals do differ; Gardner by his own admission rewrote the rituals as he found them "fragmented", and added a great deal of stuff from his own experiences in Ceremonial magical orders into which he had been initiated. Gardner is considered by most Wiccans to have created Wicca and this is backed up by the work of historian Ronald Hutton among others. There is the possibility that there are surviving covens descended from New Forest that don't go through Gardner; apparently there are individuals descended from New Forest whose knowledge of the Mysteries of Wicca is considered such that lineage is often now considered legit if it traces to New Forest rather than to Gardner. In practice, however, lineage is almost guaranteed to trace through Gardner (and indeed thence on to New Forest).  Having said that, the New Forest coven of Gardner's day is typically considered pre-Wiccan rather Wiccan itself; there was simply so much added by Gardner that they are often thought of as different witch-cults.

Gardner didn't invent Wicca, he just popularised it, so what he says doesn't apply.
Let's say this is true. (It probably isn't, but let's say it is.) Gardner found out about Wicca through the New Forest Coven into which he was initiated. When Gardner wrote all that stuff about the import of initiation and how it was a mystery religion and so forth, that would apply to New Forest also. There's no reason why it wouldn't. Even if the New Forest Coven stretched back several thousand years (unlikely), that doesn't change the nature of Wicca in any way. All the things Gardner wrote on Wicca remain the same; we really don't have any sources prior to Gardner that say Wicca is anything different.

That's elitist.
Okay. So what if it is? Wicca isn't interested in numbers or converting others. No one is going to break their oaths and change Wicca to appeal to more people just so they can bring in higher numbers, especially since it is a priesthood and involves service to deity.
Wicca is a religion that requires you to love and trust the people you worship with. And be naked with them. They're not going to swing open the doors to everyone with an interest in magic. They have the ability - and as far as some are concerned, the duty - to be picky about who they accept into their religion as their brothers and sisters. If this is something you really want, you'll find a way to work for it.
If you don't like that it's elitist, fine. You don't have to join. You can look down on them for it all you want, if you don't mind the mild hypocrisy.

The God and Goddess accept me.
Fine. That doesn't make one a Wiccan, though. Even if we assume that you're worshipping the same gods as the gods of Wicca - and there's no way to know that unless you were to be initiated and confirmed for yourself that the gods you are worshipping now are the same gods as you worship within Wicca - the way in which you're worshipping them is quite different. Given that Wicca is primarily an orthopraxy, that means you're worshipping the same gods within the structure of a different religion. To draw a couple of analogies... it's like worshipping the gods of the North in Asatru, and worshipping them in Seax. VERY different religions, but (ostensibly) the same gods. Or even Christianity vs Judaism: same god, different religions.

Wicca has changed since Gardner's day.
Well... no. It hasn't. Wicca remains the same as it always has; what changes have taken place are enough to distinguish different traditions, but not to change the core. Those traditions that drop the core, or change it significantly, are no longer Wicca and not permitted to pass on the teachings of Wicca as per their oaths. What has happened, in the past half-century, is that other forms of religious witchcraft have based some of what they do on what Gardner wrote about his religion, or just adopted the title as a name for what they do, however different their religion is from Wicca. These people are not a part of Wicca, and never have been, so they have no ability to change it or even access its teachings. They're just misusing the name and generalising it to apply to what it does not.  

Thanks for reading through, folks. Those of you who are either upset or indignant at this time, take a relaxing breath. I know this is a subject that inflames passions. I will be deleting any angry comments, so if you want a response, please be calm and polite.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sharing some altar photos

Hello all.

I talked a few posts ago about my naked altar. I've been going through some photos on my little Nikon coolpix and transferring them over to the computer, and I found a couple of shots of my Old Year's Night/Samhain altar. This is essentially as crowded as my altar has ever been, though there's an item or two you may not be able to see well as they are dark items on a black altar cloth.

The pictures were taken after the ritual. The three candles are burning for the dead in offering. The black candle in the middle is a focus candle, lit during ritual. The white ones on either side are illumination candles, to keep the ritual well-lit. There's a bird's wing on the right, my witch's ladder (more on those another day) spread out in front of the black candle, and my incense burner on the left. It makes the incense smoke billow wonderfully, as you may be able to see in the second picture.

Note that my Hammer isn't in residence on my ritual altar; this ritual in particular is for my Hedgecraft and isn't related to Heathenry, so the Hammer is placed elsewhere for the ritual.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day Three: Deities

Today's "30 Days of Paganism" entry is about deities. Deities are pretty important in my belief-system(s).

I'm a polytheist. And by this, I mean that I believe in many deities. They are not aspects of one or two, or part of my mind or subconscious. They're not archetypes or ideas. They are living, breathing entities. (Well, don't quote me on the "breathing" part.) I actually find the concept of "soft-polytheism" very slightly offensive - at least in some interpretations of the concept.

I'm also a panentheist... although I'm not sure I have a perfect handle of the meaning of this term, so I rarely use it. My understanding is that it means deity is both immanent and removed. I believe this, in the sense that the gods are a part of the world, but also independant entities. Thorr may be a part of every thunderstorm, in a sense, but he is also sitting up in Asgard having an ale with Loki. (Or maybe not, depending on where you stand on the "bound" issue.)

I believe in a great many deities. But I only worship some. I used to actively honour some Greek deities, but I didn't do it in an appropriate way. (Oh the guilt, oh the shame.) Right now, I'm too attached to the Nordic cultures and pantheon to want to split my studies and interest to Greek as well, so if I do perform a ritual (as I sometimes do in spring, for Persephone, of whom I have long been fond) it is not according to proper form. (That is, I don't start off by honouring Hestia or anything like that, although I do wash beforehand and try to follow a very pared-down version of Greek ritual.) But I digress. I believe in YHWH also, but not that Yeshua is a manifestation of him... I think of him as a Jewish tribal deity, not one who is omnipresent or omnipotent, and who may or may not secretly be El of the Canaaite pantheon.

First, and I feel like I had to write that "first", I believe in a God and a Goddess Whose names are essentially irrelevant, if indeed They have them at all. My experience with Them has been very different to other deities, in that They seem to work a lot less with words. They are more about movement, sound; more primal. My understanding is that these two deities predated all others and in a sense are (metaphorically) parents of these other deities - in the same sense that They are parents of all things, only more so. Gods are the first "children". Whether my Lord and my Lady are worshipped by other people or not I really do not know. And I'm not sure it's something that's possible to know, without being inside someone else's head.

As for anything that predated Them, a hypothetical "One" or "Prime Mover", no. I don't believe in it. I believe in these Two, as complementary and intertwined entities, and that's it. The energy around me that I perceive in things I don't consider to be a deity in and of itself. They Two are in many things also, perhaps all things to a greater or lesser degree.

Heathenry in general is a polytheistic religion. There are a very few people who consider it to be orthopraxic (I don't) and follow the cultural concepts, and consider the gods to be icons of the culture and archetypes and so forth, but not real. I am not one of those people. I'm a very theistic Heathen, and quite happily so. 

But more on individual deities later. This is just a basic overview.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day Two: Cosmology

Cosmology in the sense of the structure of the multiverse is how I've chosen to interpret Day Two.

Being a person of multiple faiths, my cosmology is sort of complicated. While in its way it's simple enough, and makes perfect sense in my brain, it's a bit hard to explain. My basic understanding is "shamanic" in nature. I believe in three primary worlds: Upperworld, where the Gods reside, Middleworld (I often refer to it as Midgard because of my Heathen influences, even when speaking from the standpoint of my Hedgecraft) and the Underworld (or Netherworld, depending on how whimsical I'm feeling).

There's a tendency to think of these as distinct layers, like in a cake. From time to time I fall into this trap and it's always to my detriment because that's not how things work. There's a lot more mixing going on. It's more like a trifle than a cake, with layers bleeding into one another, or mixed all in together. They are different and separate, but the Upperworld, for example, isn't always above. It might be right in front of you, or behind you, or below you.

You can bring these layers together. There are places and things (stone circles, for example, or barrow mounds) that act like weights on a sheet, like anchors, pulling two or more worlds together until they connect, overlap, exist together. These places are the same place; the stone circle is here but it is also there. It exists in two places simultaneously. I came to this idea through UPG but have seen it reflected in Heathen lore, in the sense that the dead were known to reside in a particular mountain, which would have been at the same time, and in the same place, both this world and existing in the next - at least in my interpretation.

There are other worlds. Some are small, some are bigger. There are at least seven and may be as many as eleven... but some are sort of attachments and could be said to be a part or element of one of the three main worlds. Depends how you look at it; I'm still not sure and may never be. The Norsemen named nine, and nine is a good number, although I don't think the nine in my head are the same nine as the ones they named. What of Alfheim, for example? Is it distinct? Is it part of the Upperworld... or the Netherworld? Neither? Both? Could be. That's the trifle I was talking about. The custard layer bleeding into both the jam and the sponge.

The Underworld is where the dead go. The dead of essentially everything. But there are other spirits there, too, that may not have been "living" in the sense we think of it here in Midgard, and therefore are not "dead". And here reside the more Chthonic deities. I tend to think of the various underworlds of mythology as different "countries" in this greater Underworld. So Hades has his halls, as does Hel.  This isn't the only place that the dead go, but, in a sense, every place that the dead go has a bit of the Underworld about it.

The Upperworld, which I need to think of a better name for because "Upperworld" is lame, is where (most of) the gods live. I'm a bit of a panentheist in that I don't think of the gods as totally separate from this world, particularly if they're an "earthy" sort of deity. They are part of it and separate from it, at once. But Up There, so to speak (is it really "up"?), is where you'll find the walls of Asgard, and of Olympus, and of Unknown Kadath (ha), and all these places. Other things live here too. Spirits and guides, and so forth. And those the gods choose to take up with them.

As for Midgard. That's this place, but not just this place. That is, not simply what we can see and observe. If you Walk in this world, for example, you may see things that are of a different time, things that are almost metaphor, or suggestions that a particular place is "special" or "different". They are part of this world, rather than Above or Below, yet a different layer of this world. Not layer up or down, layer sideways, like layers of paint on a wall or pages of tissue over images in a book. Ah... I am having difficulty describing things today.

That's it, essentially. Three worlds that are more than three. Multiple worlds that condense down to just three, depending on how you think of them and how you draw the lines. My cosmology does its very best to defy human categorisation, much to my consternation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day One: Why (not) Paganism?

Why, or why not, Paganism? What brought me to the Pagan umbrella of religions, and what do I find here that I so love?

Paganism was sort of a given, once I discovered that it existed. As a child I'd longed for the, I assumed, long-past days of polytheism, on the basis that the world (I believe I was reading about Greece at the time) must have been so different when your neighbour worshipped a different god to your own family. The appeal of those gods was always there, and not just the gods as individual entities, but the concept of multiple deities. A pantheon, a whole family of gods to worship. I'm an independant person with a strong mind, and a great love for the natural world, which had always been a part of my personality as well - like many children of my generation I grew up watching Captain Planet, Widget the World Watcher (can't remember that one? Find it on youtube, I guarantee it will all come flooding hideously back) and other cartoons and TV shows that stressed recycling and the evils of pollution and waste. I was a feminist, being of the opinion that no one could tell me I couldn't do something because I was a girl and I had a habit of getting quite rabid about the subject even when quite small.

But Christians and atheists and associated Abrahamic paths may value the equal rights of women, the natural world and personal independance. These things aren't the reason that I am a Pagan, but I was glad to find them within Paganism. Again, it's a "why not" more than a "why".... I wasn't really religious before I was a Pagan, but I was definitely searching for religion. Searching for one that fit me, for deity I clicked with.

I started out, like many Pagans, with religious witchcraft. ("Wicca" - although of course it wasn't really Wicca. More on that particular can of worms another day.) I started reading about it in the effort to learn about witchcraft (I had always been interested in the occult) and responded immediately when I discovered there were related religions, one with a focus on the earth around me and on mysterious and exciting deities - one of whom was female! (Shock.) Not just female, but an appealing female figure that I felt drawn to. The deities I discovered in these early days are still with me, but my understanding of Them is so changed and layered now that They may as well be different deities. I leapt into this new religion, ate it up, not because of the witchcraft because the spirituality described herein was one I held, or wanted to hold.

Other religions - Dharmic and Abrahamic - had been briefly considered and rapidly discarded. It wasn't so much that I disliked them but that I was very uninterested in them. I knew instinctively to just move on and keep looking, and knew with a solid and definite sureity that the right religion would come along. I think my primary spirit guide was shouting that in my ear, though I'm really not sure I was actively speaking with him at that point.

Why not Paganism? It's so wide an umbrella. Everything I require from a spiritual path I can find here. It has both tradition and variety, cultures to learn about, a wealth of things to study. Researching it involves mythology, anthropology, archaeology, history. There is structure and liberation, value in the natural world, animism, energy use. Value is placed in sex, in both genders (and beyond), in exploring and celebrating those things. There are rituals of various forms, and more freeform worship and prayer. There is lovely poetry. And there are the gods I love and worship. If I found all these other things elsewhere, I could not find the gods elsewhere.

The only thing it lacks.... well. Institution, really. Hear me out - I'm not so much interested in the institutions themselves, but in what they provide. There are two things I crave in my practice that I can't find within it. The first is great monumental places of worship; stone churches, Norman and Gothic, make my soul soar and depress me, because I love them and their vibe and aesthetic so much and I have no such place to honour the gods I love. I would delight in a place like that, to visit and light candles, to kneel before images, to explore as places of pilgrimage.
The second is related in some ways and not in others: monasteries. Monasteries provide an escape from normal life to focus on religion. Monasteries give you peace and calm, quiet, a place where you can go and simply dedicate yourself to the spiritual for a while. I love that. From time to time, I really crave that - that ability to retreat to a place away from the everyday for intense spiritual study and work - and I wish such a place existed for Pagans of many a stripe to visit once and a while.
With these both come beautiful works of art, music and plainsong.

Those things are tempting indeed, but not enough to drive me to Catholicism. Especially not enough to tempt me away from the gods I love.

Friday, June 10, 2011

30 Days of Paganism

This is a meme from way back last September, although I know people who are only really getting to the end of it now. I've posted this in a private blog, and I'm going to transfer it over bit by bit.

The idea is to post on each of 30 days (not necessarily in a row), focusing on different areas of one's religion. I am both a Heathen and a religious Hedgewitch, and while these are distinct religions, my path is in its way a single path, so I am answering these as per my beliefs. Whether something would fall into the "Heathen" category or the "Hedgewitch" category may sometimes be unclear, and I'll attempt to be specific. It's not so much that there's bleedover or overlap between them, as that my personal beliefs aren't exclusive of one another.

Here is the list, possibly slightly modified from the original as I nabbed it off a friend's wordpress:

30 Days of Paganism
1. Beliefs – Why (not) Paganism?
2. Beliefs – Cosmology
3. Beliefs – Deities
4. Beliefs – Birth, death and rebirth
5. Beliefs – Magic, spellcraft, mysticism etc
6. Beliefs – The power of prayer/reciprocity
7. Beliefs – Patronage and other deeper relationships
8. Beliefs – Holidays
9. Deity Gender
10. Patrons - Loki, and the Gods of my Hedgecraft
11. Pantheon – Odinn
12. Pantheon – Thorr
13. Pantheon – Various
14. Pantheon – Aesir, Vanir, Vaettir
15. Pantheon (anti) – Taking inspiration from a friend, "Outside the Bounds" - interactions with other deities.
16. The meaning of terms like "earth-based" and what they mean to this path
17. My ways of worship
18. Community
19. Paganism and my family/friends
20. Paganism and my relationship
21. Other paths I’ve explored
22. Paganism and major life events
23. Ethics
24. Personal aesthetics with magic and ritual
25. Priest? Clergy? One or both? Neither?
26. Any “secular” pastimes with religious significance, and why
27. How your faith has helped you in difficult times
28. One misconception about Paganism you’d like to clear up
29. The future of Paganism
30. Places of spiritual significance

My Naked Altar

My altar is reasonably large. I like it that way... I feel like I can spread out my arms and still be "before" it, in a manner of speaking. I like having the option of space. But despite all that space, I have only five things on my altar: two illumination candles for rituals, a taper candle between them, for focus, my candle snuffer, and my Hammer. That's all.

I like that it is not cluttered. Clutter would, I think, make me feel a little claustrophobic. As it is, I feel like I can move my arm across it to light a candle without knocking anything over or needing to worry about shifting anything accidentally. Yet when I look at the altars of other people, I am genuinely surprised that they manage to get that much stuff onto them. I look at my sparse altar, and I really can't think of anything to add to it. Occasionally a stone will sit there in the middle, surrounded on all sides by vast empty space, or a necklace, or a piece of ribbon or string. Maybe a stick of incense, or a tealight candle. Anything else, and I feel almost like the focus of the altar is gone, that it's pulling in too many directions. That might be a construction issue... if the things on the altar are chosen well and properly arranged, this probably doesn't happen. I certainly look at many full altars and think they look beautiful, like lovely devotional creations to the relevant gods. That never seems to happen with mine. I even usually have trouble decorating it for the holidays.

I'm caught between feeling mildly inferior - my altar is not so pretty or so full! - and feeling overburdened by a cluttered altar. I'm not sure what to do about it. I like my altar well enough in its simplicity, but it certainly doesn't look like a devotional creation to my gods in the way that some people's altars do.

An unsolved problem - or perhaps a work in progress.

In other news, I've decided to start posting some of my "30 Days of Paganism", a meme that was going around like nine months ago that I still haven't finished yet. It will give me something to post, and it will help you, the reader, to learn more about me and the two faiths I practise.

May Your Gods Smile

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thoughts on the Blog, and Moving Forward

I find myself a bit unsure what to post here lately. I think a lot of that is because I've been throwing up a lot of my quasi-feminist vitriol, and that's largely what this blog has become. Apart form the odd book review (most still in draft form, I regret to say), I haven't written much about my faith, or about Paganism generally. Which I... don't regret, I just wish to change that.

This blog started as a way for me to rant about the way abortion is treated in my country. And I've done that. And I may do that again in the future. (I probably will. Expect a rant about sterilisation again at some point.) If nothing else, my recent reading of The Spiral Dance and its particular prejudices has me twitching - but I'll save that for the review. (It'll be scathing. It really is an awful book.)

When I began this blog, I was in a ranty mood. And I'm often in that sort of mood, because people are stupid. But that's not what I want any more. I'm a little upset with the sheer amount of rant in the blog so far. For the time being, I'm going to focus the blog primarily on religious and craft-related matters, and less on feminist and childfree issues.

I hope that's agreeable to everyone. I have quite a few books lined up for review. If there are books in particular you'd like to see reviewed, do tell me. I'll do everything but lore translations and Ravenwolf. Although note that there are quite a few Pagan religions I'm not well versed in enough to know whether or not a particular book on the subject is full of it, but I'll make relevant disclaimers as we go.

So. The weather grows colder, which I like. There's something special about winter. Most of the trees here keep their leaves... I wish they didn't. I'd like to live somewhere where the ground was white with snow instead of just the occasional frost, and the trees were great naked spiky things pointing skyward. And it wasn't so damn hot in summer.

Yule is on the horizon, which is pleasing. It's a holiday I particularly love. There's a lot of mead involved; what's not to love? As a Heathen, I hold twelve nights of celebration. As a Heathen all by her lonesome, that celebration is rather limited, but it does one good to mark the time. I rarely manage to hold ritual every night, but something is better than nothing, and taking some time to be peaceful and happy, and read some lore with good food or drink, counts nearly as much as ritual. I also hold a Winter Solstice ritual for my religious Hedgecraft, and honour my God and Goddess thereof, which means the night of the solstice itself tends to be busy and exhausting.

I extend the question to my readers, however many stumble across this post: What holiday are you celebrating soon, and how will you celebrate? I do love learning about the holidays and rituals of different Pagan (and otherwise) religions.