Thursday, September 29, 2011

I am a Witch.

I am a witch.

I don't believe in the "threefold law".
      (I think it's a ritual contrivance of Gardner's and meaningless out of context.)
I don't follow the "rede".
I don't use magic circles. Or "compasses".
I don't call upon gods to help me in my spells.
      (Unless I consider it directly related to a deity. It's happened once.)
I don't spell "magic" with a "k".
      (Unless I'm discussing Thelema.)
I don't believe in Karma.
      (Not even the actual Dharmic sort.)
I do use blood in my spells, if I think the spell calls for it.
If a spell or magical act calls for blood, I bleed; I don't use menstrual blood.
      (Unless menstrual blood would be the most appropriate kind.)
I think curses are more ethical than binding spells.
And I'll curse if I need to.
I don't do spells much.
      (There's usually an easier way to get what you want.)
I'd rather take herbs in pill form than tea form.
      (Easier that way.)
I don't go running naked in the woods.
      (Sounds nice, but there are thorns and spiders and so on.)
I am not a vegetarian; I enjoy eating meat.
I don't want children.
I think it's fine to use drugs in your witchcraft. That's your business.
      (The most I use is alcohol, but I'd be open to flying ointment.)
I don't think witchcraft is inherently theistic, or religious.
I don't use an athame, a wand, a pentacle or any tools of that nature.
I am a religious witch, but the gods I worship may not be the same as those you worship.
I don't worship a Triple Goddess.
And I do not think all gods are the same.
I don't respect and love all creatures of the earth.
      (I hate cockroaches. Don't try to pretend you like them.)

I don't assume your witchcraft is anything like mine.
Kindly extend me the same courtesy.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Day Eight: Holidays

Time for another "30 Days of Paganism" entry!

I celebrate the eight general spokes of the generic "Wheel of the Year". And I celebrate them all twice. That makes sixteen major celebrations, with another handful on top of that specific to Heathenry.

Most Heathens don't celebrate that many, I don't think, but I love holidays and I love the sort of sense of community, almost, from celebrating with my gods. On top of that, my Heathen holidays tend to be more human-oriented than my Hedgewitch ones, which are more world-around-me- and celestial-oriented. My Heathen holidays are celebrated either on traditional dates or are dependant on the weather, while my Hedgewitch holidays are wholly astronomical. I do occasionally refer to my Craft-related holidays as "sabbats", though I never meet anyone (living), and though they may have little to do with what other Pagan witches are celebrating.

So, starting with Yule, which is the major holiday in Heathenry. I start of with Mother Night on the night before Yule proper, which is usually the 20th of June. Yuletide stretches for 12 days, though I don't always hold blots on all, or most, of those days. Still, it's a time for battening down hatches. Oðinn is honoured primarily, but because the holiday is so long you can honour whomever you please.
I for my Hedgecraft, I celebrate the Solstice on the proper day, and if possible at the proper hour and minute. I refer to it as the Winter Solstice or Midwinter. I honour my Lord primarily but my Lady plays a role here too, one I am discovering further each year.

Next is a Heathen holiday, Thorrablot. One honours Thor for keeping us safe and whole in the cold part of the year. This is a favourite holiday of mine, a favourite I think of many Heathens, because it leaves you feeling particularly warm and safe. This sort of renews the bonds between you and Thor. It's wonderful.

Next comes Charming of the Plough/Idis-thing. I don't own a plough, so don't actually charm it. I also don't live near any farms, and it's not cold enough here for the ground to freeze. So, I focus my celebration primarily on Freyr and Freyja, and the Disir, and on spring itself. I tend to celebrate when I first smell spring in the air, which may be a little before or a little after the astronomical date.
I celebrate Candlemas as the beginning of spring proper, as close to the astronomical date as possible but I may delay it slightly if spring hasn't come yet. I use the Catholic name as I'm not comfortable with the word "Imbolc" just generally. I don't know how to properly pronounce it and it doesn't mean anything to me. Though this year I started referring to it as "Spring-tide" as well. This is a gentle sort of time, and it is cold though the flowers are beginning to arrive on blossom trees and with daffodils.

Next is the Vernal Equinox. Some years I'll hold a Hellenic ritual for Persephone too, as I'm fond of her and this is a time I strongly associate with her. The Equinox proper I celebrate at the proper time. Equinoxes are a time of balance for me and so I try to get it at the exact minute if possible. There is a switch-over from dark-time to light-time and I'm trying to represent that more properly in my rituals in recent years. My Lord and Lady don't have separate times of the year dedicated to Them, like spring/autumn or winter/summer, but there are particular holidays that stress one of Them more than the Other. This isn't really one of them.
Ostara is at this time of year although I don't tend to use that name. I associate the deity Bede mentioned with Iðunna as it makes sense to me. This is a youthful time, and Iðunna's apples give youth to the gods. I find parallels between Iðunna's primary myth - of being stolen and returned - and the wheel of the year (things growing old, then youth returning). So I honour her on this holiday. But I must admit I'm not particularly close to Iðunna. I may begin honouring other deities or ancestors as well, perhaps Handmaidens of Frigg.

Next comes the beginning of summer. I hold Walpurgisnacht on the night before May Day. It's a time to focus on death and those who have passed away, which seems odd at this time of year, but honouring and respecting death the night before means one can focus fully on life and joy the next day. I like that. I honour Hel, and sometimes Frigg and Freyja as well.
May Day of course is not in May for me, but I haven't found a name I like better yet. Summernights, maybe, as an opposite to Winternights. It is a time of wild abandon. One honours Freyr and Freyja. What's odd is that I'm not even particularly close to these two gods (though our relationship is growing), but they tend to get top billing in a lot of holidays. It's weird. At any rate it's a time of strawberries.
The astronomical date tends to fall a few days later. I refer to it as Beltaine, which perhaps I shouldn't as it has nothing much to do with the Irish holiday as far as I know. I have trouble letting go of the name, though. Hopefully a new one will occur to me as the holiday approaches. More love, more sex, and a welcoming in of summer. Early summer is a fantastic time: it's not yet hot, but pleasantly warm. Blue skies are a novelty, things are green, rich and bright and everything is simply joyful at the arrival of the coming growing season. It's one of my favourite holidays for this reason.

Next up is Midsummer. I use this word for my Heathen holiday as well - "Litha" is apparently an option but I don't like that name. It's a strange holiday for me as far as whom I honour goes. Others like to honour Baldur, which I feel I shouldn't really do as it's my fulltrui's fault he's where he is. I honour Sunna in part, though she seems so far away. When things are a bit open, I tend to go for someone who kind of fits, and whom I don't get to honour much. So Tyr, on this date, because I respect and like him a great deal and because apparently Things were held on this date.
Summer Solstice I try to hold at the proper time. Summer is a very lazy time, for me, for the world around me and for my country in particular as everyone gets about four weeks off at this time of year, and those who take their holidays at other times get four days of stat holidays. The entire country acts like they're stoned and laxxed out for at least two weeks. Everyone walks around half-dressed and barefoot in the sun. It's fab. Food is plentiful, it's too warm to want to do anything but not yet the horrible heat of late summer, there's still enough moisture everywhere and everything just sort of lies there. Animals, birds, plants. Because the sun is at its apex I honour the Lord primarily on this day, though my Lady gets Her due. It's also the time when days stop getting longer and start getting shorter, which is something I focus on.

Next holiday is Lammas. Loaf-mass, that is. I always feel the desire to bake bread, though I don't bake as a rule and wouldn't know how to make bread in particular. So I pop some of those dinner rolls in the oven that come half-baked from the supermarket and need about five minutes to finish baking. So they smell fantastic and are warm and good.
I celebrate my Heathen holiday as Freyfaxi. It tends to be earlier than Lammas proper. As a date that's traditionally connected to the harvest I honour Freyr (plus it has his name in it), but also Thor and Sif. Thor's lightning keeps the soil fertile and Sif is connected to the harvest with the myth about her hair being cut and replaced. (By Loki. Looking at it, we may have him to thank for seasons at all! ha.) As a date when I get a chance to connect with Sif, whom I quite like, I enjoy this holiday.
Lammas proper brings my Hedgecraft closer to the hearth, as a Craft holiday that I connect with home as well as with the world around me and celestial bodies. The baking, and so on. It's also a time when it's getting very hot. After the growing season, everything is tired and parched and ready for the autumn. I celebrate the arrival of autumn and the passing of summer, which at this point I am totally over.

Next up, Autumnal Equinox. This actually tends to come first on my calendar, before the Heathen holiday. I love autumn particularly. The same equinox deals apply as to spring, and I swap my gold altar candle for my black one. Nights are now longer than days, with all that implies.
Winter-finding is particularly connected to the weather. While some holidays depend on the smell of the coming season in the air, Winter-finding falls on the first cold day after the Equinox. I honour Oðinn, as a god of winter and of wisdom, and of the coming cold weather.

Then there's Lokablot, which is rare in the Heathen world and falls on April 1st. It's one of those precious rare holidays that's on the same date in the Southern as it is in the Northern hemisphere, and appears to be the Official Unofficial date for honouring Loki. Lokeans the world over have decided this apparently independent of one another. I drink to Loki on this date, usually shots of something like Cointreau. In its own way it's like a "new year" for me, a touchstone, and I value it highly.

Winternights comes next. The traditional date would be about May 1st but if I don't smell winter in the air or it doesn't feel right I'll delay it. I think it's one of the rarer Heathen holidays, as far as number of people holding it goes, but I like it as another opportunity to honour Hel and the ancestors.
Samhain is one of those holidays I had great trouble bringing myself to rename. I have a couple of ideas that I implemented this year: Old Year's Night and Nox Umbrarum (night of shadows). It's the date I bound myself to my path, whatever it might be, so it's an anniversary for myself in that sense. It's also one of my favourite sabbat of mine and a day I honour death and the dead. This year I stretched it out to two days, in order to honour the dead in their own right on the first day and the Gods on the second.

And then comes Yule again.....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Defining the Witch

A friend and I are what I would term "traditional witches". That is, we draw our practices and spiritual beliefs from folklore and pre-Gardner witchcraft. (I distinguish this from, say, Cochrane's craft, which is not what one would term "pre-Gardner", and like Wicca has much in the way of Ceremonial influences.)

We find that in books on the occult and modern witchcraft, what we do is often ignored. Witchcraft becomes narrowed down to Wicca-flavoured variations, without acknowledgement of more traditional forms of witchcraft. This is partly because there are few of us, partly because what we do isn't very specific. There can be massive variations from witch to witch, and in particular between a traditional witch and a Wicca-flavoured witch. We don't fall within a particular definition, nor is witchcraft inherently religious, nor is it a form of Paganism. We're not trying to criticise these paths, just the narrowing of "witch" in this way, and the lack of variation in many books on the subject. A book on witchcraft is likely to be about a particular form thereof - which is good, but still leaves a gap when it comes to discussing witchcraft in a more general sense.

What we would like is a book about witchcraft as a whole. Not one that uses "witchcraft" to refer to just one path, or even just one religion. Not one, either, that over-generalises across all paths and lumps them into one, to suggest that all witches are Pagans or even theists. We'd like to see a book that discusses many different forms of witchcraft in a proper way.

We aren't sure this book exists. So, we're keen to write one. This will take time, and it will take a great deal of research also. If nothing else, "witchcraft" is an incredibly difficult thing to define. What distinguishes witchcraft from other forms of magical practice, like Ceremonialism? What counts, and what is distinct? Is it proper to call, say, Hoodoo witchcraft? Is one a witch by virtue of practising witchcraft, or is there some moment when you become a witch, or truly realise what it means to be one?

As a part of this, we are very interested in what the witchcraft community at large has to say. If you have answers to these questions, either specifically or more or less covered in a blog post or forum post you've written previously, please let us know by posting or putting a link to it in the comments, or by sending me an email.

How do you personally define "witchcraft"?
What beliefs do you think all witches share?
What practices do you think all witches share?
How does one know when or if one is a witch? Does practising witchcraft make one a witch automatically, or is it something you become?
What was the first time you really felt like a witch?
What specific practices, in their own right, do you consider to be witchcraft?
What topics or issues do you wish were covered in more books on witchcraft? If you were designing your perfect book on witchcraft, what would you want to see included?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Milestone

So, at some point last month the blog ticked over to 1000 pageviews. And I didn't really notice at the time, so I didn't say anything.

But I'm looking at it now, at just over 1100, and feeling pretty pleased about that. I'd like to thank everyone for reading, thank you all for linking me on your sites or on tumblr, on reddit, on stumbleupon. Thank you also for your comments and feedback. It means a lot to hear from you, and to know that you're enjoying what I'm writing.

Thanks everyone <3

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day Seven: Patronage and Deeper Relationships

Because there is a later day for patron deities themselves, I have to think of this as about patronage as an overall concept. Perhaps I'm wrong... here it is, regardless.

When I consider the word "patron", it has, for me, particular connotations. It's not simply a close relationship with a deity... The word directly relates to the form of relationship in Roman culture between a client, or supplicant, and patron. The client makes requests, the patron says "sure, and in return you can do this and this for me" and it is done. Like sponsorship. A bit different from, but definitely related to, a patron of particular artists and so on. So, your patron is someone you represent, someone you serve, someone your actions reflect upon. Someone who is willing to sponsor you in a sense, but to whom you owe in return. And because of where this word came from and its meaning, a patron goddess is still a patron, not a matron, which means something else. (Think a woman in charge of a dormitory.)

It is, indeed, a close bond, and it can happen a number of different ways. It may be a sort of contract that you enter into willingly. One god may pass you onto another - I've actually had this happen to me. On the other hand, you may have no choice in the matter whatsoever, and a god who has claimed you may not take "no" for an answer.

In different religions these relationships will take different forms. Some indeed have different terms for this sort of relationship, and might use the word "patron" sort of as a term more people are familiar with. In Heathenry, there are terms like "fulltrui", which indicates something like "best friend", "most true". It indicates a strong shared troth with this deity. It's more appropriate a term than "patron" because of the different forms Nordic relationships take from Roman ones.

You do not need a patron. I hate that current running under Neo-Paganism at the moment that everyone needs a patron, and that everyone will have one eventually, and even that you're somehow not a proper or "full" Pagan if you do not have one. Many people do not have a patron. A patron is not some sort of requirement, nor is it the sort of relationship every Pagan wishes to have - even Pagans very devoted to their gods. What's worse is that quite a few people have got this idea, either from others or from books, that every Eclectic Neo-Pagan needs two patrons - one male, one female - that they serve in ritual in sort of place of the Wiccan Lord and Lady. I cannot stress enough that this isn't so. Deities from other cultures and religions cannot be inserted into these roles. Being drawn to both a male and female deity is all very well but you have people, now, feeling that they need one of each and that they should worship them together in the same ritual. This can be, y'know, very bad. Particularly if these deities are from different cultures or don't like each other.

Do I need to recount the story of Loki and Selene? I should hope not. All I have to say is that the person in question is damn lucky he asked Selene to his circle and not, Fates forbid it, Athena or Artemis.

Anyway. Deeper relationships.

Deep relationships with my deities are very important for me, and the way I do things. Others may not feel that deepening a relationship is particularly important, so long as they honour them, and that's fine for those people. Me, I crave that deeper relationship. Not with everyone, of course. Some deities I do not honour actively at all, but acknowledge in hailing the gods generally or in passing. Some deities I honour on occasion, but am not close to, nor drawn to deepening those relationships. But I do share close bonds with some deities, and a desire to deepen those relationships further. I'll discuss those deities in detail in later entries.

So! to use myself as an example: Loki is my fulltrui, my close friend, my "patron", if you will. I am also close to Oðinn and wish to deepen that relationship further, but he is not my patron and I don't serve him in the way I would if that were so. (Thankfully - I don't think I'm cut out to be one of Oðinn's! He asks heavy things of his own.)

As an aside, the God and Goddess of my Hedgecraft - of Whom I have spoken earlier - are the only deities in that tradition/religion... as such, "patron" seems a weird and inappropriate word to apply to Them. I serve Them, and seek to know Them, and follow where They lead. Call that relationship what you will.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Actually, I Rather Like Men.

It has been a long time since we've had a "women's issues" post. I think we're overdue one.

Now, I'm not usually a fan of conspiracy theories. And there's one issue that skirts a little close, in my opinion - so I don't like to read into it too much. I don't want to draw the obvious conclusion... or even suggest that it truly damages feminism as a concept, label aside.

But it is an issue that really, really annoys me. It is the concept that feminism is misandry.

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I love men. I get along just as well, if not better, with men as with women, and they are nice to look at, among other things. I am a strong supporter of men's health, men's mental health and issues such as woman-on-man rape (and, for that matter, man-on-man rape) and domestic violence. Violence against men in the home is massively underreported and a big issue for me. We women have woman-only shelters and things to run to, foundations to support us, while domestic violence against men is swept under the carpet.

Feminism is about gender equality. It's not solely about women. But recall, in many countries women could not vote a century ago. Power has stood with men for a long time. So first and second wave feminism focused mostly on the liberation of women from roles focused solely around the home, or as nurses or secretaries and nothing else. We're at a stage now where there are still assumed gender roles, and in many professions there's still a glass ceiling, still a pay gap. There are still chauvinists and sexist pigs in society. But things are significantly better than they were, and the focus now is as much on men as it is on women. 

And not only men and women. We are no longer limited to thinking there are only two genders. Third gendered individuals are all but invisible even today, and must occasionally (or, unfortunately for some, continuously) select "man" or "woman" and conform to it publicly. English, so wonderful in so many ways, has not presented us with a suitable genderless pronoun. I think this change - accepting the third genders as full and equal socially - will be slow and long in coming, not because of any sort of inherent prejudices (although these will exist) but because of the cultural shifting that will need to take place.

I tend to think that the vast majority of women in Western societies nowadays are probably feminists by default. If you choose to live a "traditional" home-maker life and allow your husband to take the reins in all your family decisions, but feel women should be able to live whatever life they choose, I would still count you as a feminist: your choice is your choice, you aren't asking all women to live as you do. It would be hypocritical for me to want to push you to enjoy a similar lifestyle to myself. Similarly a pro-choice woman may never elect to have an abortion herself, yet will support the rights of others to make that choice for themselves. Indeed, I tend to think of most men as feminists as well. Why would they not be? They love the women in their lives. I have to think they accept us as equals both at home and in the work place. I know that this is not always the case, but it is what I expect. It is what I expect from every man I meet. When I bother analysing that expectation, I have to think that it is the best view to take. This should, after all, be considered the norm. As far as I'm concerned, it is.

Feminists do not agree with one another on all issues - see, for example, the rows over whether the sex industry is dehumanising or empowering (or both). There are some women who call themselves feminists that I would consider sexist at best and misandrists at worst. Are they still feminists? One wouldn't want to fall into a "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Yet I do think that feminism is about equality, not about elevating one gender above the other; that would be counter to the ideals of feminism as I understand them. Replacing a patriarchy with a matriarchy would help no one, simply replace one set of stereotypes and restricting gender roles with another. Equality is the aim: the right for any person to be understood as a person, as themselves, not limited by what gender they identify with - or indeed what parts they were born with.

So where does this idea that all feminists are misandrists come from? Is it simply that those women are the loudest? That they are the only women who publicly identify as feminists, so some believe they are representative of feminism in its entirety? Or - in that conspiracy I mentioned earlier - is it some sort of attempt to discredit feminism as a whole?

Personally I want to believe that those who try so hard to discredit feminism as man-hating and hypocritical have no understanding of what feminism is, perhaps have only come across a handful of women who identified themselves outwardly as feminists and were (as some are) disparaging to men and humourless about women. I don't want to think of every person who dismisses feminism as some sort of misogynist. 

We have girls saying they are certainly not feminists. I stand with my jaw dropped - how can they possibly not want to be considered the equal of boys? Of men? How can they blow off feminism on the one hand and demand their rights on the other? Are they not aware that those things are one in the same? Apparently not - and it angers me. It angers me that feminism is associated with being "butch", a man-hater, or a lesbian (as if all three of those things were negative and interchangeable). It angers me that feminists past, their writings, and the rights and social freedoms they fought for that we now take for granted may be disparaged by this horrendously narrow view of feminism.

I don't think we are going to take many steps backwards in women's rights because of this issue. Many people may not think of gender equality as feminism, but will still support gender equality, and that is the important thing. But a pet peeve is a pet peeve, and this is an irritation I will not soon overcome, I fear - and the hatred and scorn levelled at those of us women who do identify as feminists is not acceptable. Especially since those taking the flak are unlikely to hold the views those who are stereotyping them believe them to hold.

Above all, let us not forget that in many parts of the world, women are still fighting for things some of us in Western societies take for granted now. Feminism is not something relegated to the past, clung to only by those women who want to elevate their gender above men. It is living; it is many movements, not just one; it is an evolving concept, relevant now as it was in the 70s. And, I think, more aware of men now than it was then, and the import of freeing men from their own stereotypes and restrictive gender roles. Moreover, equality does not mean we have to be the same.

Feminism is a huge umbrella, with a multitude of arms. (Mixed metaphor. Sorry.) For me, feminism has always been about one primary concept: Women are people.

Further Reading: