We have recently been alerted to what is potentially one of the funniest witchcraft events of 2015: a little Facebook group entitled American Council of Witches 2015, which can be found at this URL and at this Facebook address. Upon initial observation, one might wonder, “Who are these people who deign to ordain themselves “The American Council of Witches”? One might also question these things on that Facebook page, which quite a few other people have also done (scroll down and read the “Posts to page” section on the left. It’s brilliant).
The original American Council of Witches, according to the arbiter of all things (Wikipedia), “was an independent group founded in 1974 consisting of approximately seventy-three members who followed Pagan, Neopagan, or Witchcraft traditions; the group convened and disbanded in 1974 after drafting a set of common principles.” They literally, in 1974, in 4 DAYS, attempted to unify and define all of Neo-paganism. That’s like .0001% of Haitian Vodouisants meeting in Canada to attempt to define all of Vodou, for everyone, everywhere. In case that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s also like 74 members of various Christian denominations attempting to hammer out a statement of 13 beliefs for ALL CHRISTIANS IN NORTH AMERICA, and BFF-ing CHICK PUBLICATIONS (read: Llewellyn) to spread that silly shit both far and near before the internet could show up and donkey punch an ignorant bitch for being, well, just silly.
This shit showed up yesterday on the pagan blogosphere (and by that we mean they have posts from a month ago, but no one paid attention till yesterday because everyone was too busy with logic.) Luckily, some witchcraft good Samaritan (you know it was the Wiccans) has decided to
spoof make the website more truthful, and created a Facebook page for it, so that everyone could see exactly what’s going on. And by that we mean a whole bunch of (hilarious) nothing.
But, in the interest of the ancient Greek god Momus, you should go like the much more legit Council of American Witches.org 2015’s Facebook page, and leave comments on their “Posts to Page” because LOGIC.
We wrote another piece, but we published it somewhere marvelous, unlike this dump.
Here’s an embellished excerpt:
“We’d known that the end would come for years, because my ridiculous initiators would wax eloquent about their grand “retirement,’ but it was always some distant time when their 10 year old son would turn 18 and they would retire somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Eight years goes by in a flash when you’re happy. I should have stayed surly.”
This is a post about the Chinese bodhisattva, Kwan Yin. Kwan Yin does not typically have any association with modern day Wicca, but she is of historical importance to many Gardnerians, and, as such, is included in this blog. Enjoy.
The divinity known as Kwan-Yin throughout China is both unique among Chinese goddesses and similar to other female deities in many ways. She holds a position of particular importance within both Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, as well as popular Chinese religious practice and belief. By existing within both the popular pantheon as well as Buddhism, she enjoys a status unparalleled by any other Chinese deity.
Kwan-Yin has been one of the most venerated deities in China since approximately the fourth century C.E. Yet her entrance into China from Tibet had occurred centuries prior. She “is unique in China in that she appears to have originated as a male bodhisattva and ended up as a goddess.” The male bodhisattva which evolved into Kwan-Yin upon entrance into China is Avalokitesvara. “Bearing a lotus flower, (he) was born from a ray of light that sprang from Amitabha Buddha’s right eye.” “Avalokitesvara is cherished on account of his vow to renounce Nirvana’s final peace for as long as there are sentient beings still lost amidst samsara’s ocean.” This is the definition of what it is to be a bodhisattva, especially the key aspect of Kwan-Yin, which is compassion.
Before long, Avalokitesvara was “adopted as Tibet’s tutelary deity.” When the practice of invoking him first came to China in the first century C.E., he was never depicted as female. But by the twelfth century, female representations of the bodhisattva were very common.
And why did this change take place? It becomes evident, when looking at the role of Kwan-Yin in China, why the switch from male to female was made. The explanation involves “a tertiary embodiment of Compassion, Tara, a beautiful female divinity… born of a tear shed by Avalokitesvara in sorrow for the world.” She has two functions: “rescuing beings from present woes and assisting them to rid themselves of the delusions binding them to samsara.” These tasks are almost indistinguishable from the objectives of Kwan-Yin. In this way, the previously eleven-headed and thousand-armed Avalokitesvara now appeared in an unspoiled human form, which the Chinese were quick to espouse. John Blofeld, author of Bodhisattva of Compassion, has found evidence of this in paintings of Kwan-Yin in which the venerable bodhisattva’s posture and mudras are distinctly those of Tara.
When the newer version of the bodhisattva entered into China from Tibet, she was quickly incorporated into Mahayanist doctrine. While having assumed the female identity and attributes of the Tibetan fertility goddess Tara, she retains, in the minds of her Chinese devotees, full identity with the Indian Avalokitesvara. “Viewed esoterically, the sex attributed to celestial bodhisattvas is unimportant, since they are regarded as meditation forms not of beings but of what might be called cosmic forces.” While this statement discredits the importance of gender within a strictly Buddhist meditational outlook, the fact that a divinity could have undergone a change in gender to accommodate the people is significant. The role of fertility within religion had long since been one of the most honored and aspired aspects of any god, and with the Chinese emphasis upon progeny, Kwan-Yin’s association with Tara becomes a vitally important facet of her acceptance into the Chinese popular pantheon.
Nicknamed “the Goddess of Mercy” by Jesuit missionaries, the bodhisattva appeared in many forms to the Chinese, including perhaps her most familiar form, “White robed Guanyin.” The origins of this clearly feminine deity “may lie with a group of indigenous scriptures that portray her primarily as a fertility goddess. Although Guanyin’s power of granting children is already mentioned in the Lotus Sutra, these indigenous scriptures…emphasize Guanyin’s power to grant sons, and…call attention to her protection of pregnant women and assurance of safe childbirths.” This strictly Chinese vision of Kwan-Yin emphasizes and extends her powers outside of the traditional Buddhist framework of a bodhisattva and affixes her permanently within the greater structure of the general Chinese pantheon. Unfamiliar with Buddhist metaphysics, countless Chinese love her and recognize in her “the protective power and rewarding nature of compassion.” One can often find her smiling gaze looking out at the world from behind the altars of Taoist temples, a sign of just how beloved she is of the people, no matter what creed they profess.
Her portrayal in the epic Chinese story Journey to the West brings her role back to that of the original Indian bodhisattva, as a divinity primarily concerned with the salvation of mankind. She is begged for forgiveness of sins by Pigsy and Sandy, and even offers forgiveness for sins against Heaven, a place which does not exist in Buddhism, to Monkey. Her ability to rectify seemingly anything is another attribute which grants her a status unrivaled by any other Chinese deity. Proclaimed as “the savior Kuan-Yin” by Monkey it is clear that her powers extend far beyond that of immortals yet her concern remains for that of all sentient beings, not only human.
While her prominence as both bodhisattva and deity enable her to transcend the boundaries placed upon divinities by religion, she is not totally unlike all other gods. The fact that she is a female entity gives her much in common with a number of other feminine divinities, such as Mazu.
Kwan-Yin, “like other Chinese Goddesses, does not belong to a celestial bureaucracy. Chinese female deities, whether of Buddhist, Taoist, or popular descent, usually bear no…resemblance to bureaucrats.” And “despite their non-bureaucratic characteristics, female deities occupy prominent positions in the pantheon of the popular religion.” It appears that being a female comes with certain privileges, for her role “gives her the ability to act freely of any bureaucratic role, for she exists outside of that system. Personal requests are taken much more frequently to female deities in general.”
A surprisingly distinct similarity between this beloved bodhisattva and another female deity comes in the form of Mazu, a goddess worshipped in the eastern and southern coastal areas. Kwan-Yin, “incarnated as princess Miaoshan, refused to be wed despite her father’s explicit order. Mazu…likewise declined to marry.” Both died shortly thereafter, having been untainted and untamed by men. The stories of Miaoshan and Mazu are quite extraordinary, and highlight the common nature of each goddess. “Not only are they women, they are unfilial women. Thus…(they) represent a sharp departure from the Confucian world view, which considered filial piety a cardinal virtue.” The significance of such is quite well articulated by Shahar when she says that, “these goddesses remind us of how much power lies outside politics, in the ability to recreate families and nurture children, but also to threaten male ideas of patrilineal unity.”
What sets Kwan-Yin apart from other goddesses, which is also due to her role as a bodhisattva, is her particular devotion to human beings, as well as sentient beings. Not only will she remain within the cycle of samsara for the benefit of all, but her role as a fertility deity enables her to grant boons which would be irrelevant in Buddhist eyes, such as sons, which are treasured in Chinese culture. Kwan-Yin is first and foremost a goddess of compassion, ready at any moment to succor the masses in their hour of need. Not unlike the Virgin Mary of the Christian pantheon, she is the eternal benefactor and proverbial virgin mother figure of humanity. Yet this role of helping humans does not apply to all female divinities, as is the case with the Queen Mother of the West.
When the new Taoism, or “The Way of the Celestial Masters” developed in China in the late fourth century C.E, it “claimed access to higher heavens and more exalted deities.” In this new system, the Queen Mother of the West held court on mythical Mount Kun-lun in the west, where she was served by immortals, who were stellar divinities, or perhaps female residents of the magical Kun-lun Mountain. As ruler, she is queen of the immortals, who are neither gods nor men. Her status as an immortal gives her a sense of independence in contrast to other gods, including Kwan-Yin. The Queen Mother has no duties to uphold to mankind, and can exist peacefully upon her mountain feasting upon her peaches of immortality. She has no need of humanity, unlike Kwan-Yin who needs mankind, if not for worship, to function as a bodhisattva.
The Queen Mother’s status as an immortal did not, however, keep mankind from calling upon her for help in attaining higher states of being. She became a key element in realizing immortality within the new Taoist framework.
The role of both Kwan-Yin and the Queen Mother in Chinese life is perhaps best illustrated in Journey to the West. Throughout the novel, Kwan-Yin acts on behalf of the Buddha as well as humanity in seeking out a scripture-bearer to fetch sutras from India. These Mahayanist texts “can carry the souls of the dead to Heaven, can save all those that are in trouble, can add immeasurably to life’s span, and can deliver those that trust in it from the comings and goings of incarnation.” This coupled with her readiness to administer forgiveness and penance to sinners serves to further her mission on Earth.
In contrast to the compassion of Kwan-Yin lies the relative disinterest of the Queen Mother, whose only main concern within the novel is hosting a peach banquet for the residents of Heaven. She sends fairy maidens to the peach gardens to harvest the fruit, and aside from that, only appears again to inform the Jade Emperor of Monkey’s misdeeds. Her main significance to humans seems to lie in her veneration within immortality cults, as she is seen as a granter of immortality to those who have sufficiently perfected themselves.
It is clear that Kwan-Yin’s unique evolution as well as her prominence in two separate religious systems grants her a position of significant interest from both a religious and anthropological perspective. Venerated as a path to salvation by Buddhists and implored for miracles and intercessions by Chinese people in general, she remains a rather uncommon blend of popular deity and bodhisattva. Her role as a female divinity likens her to other such feminine entities in her existence outside of the traditional bureaucratic model while she retains a sense of distinction in her mission upon Earth. Concerned first and foremost with alleviating suffering, countless millions, no matter what form she may take, feel her powerful presence.
Blofeld, John. Bodhisattva of Compassion. Boulder: Shambhala, 1978.
Lopez, Donald S. Religions of China in Practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Sangren, P. Steven. History and Magical Power in a Chinese Community. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987.
Shahar, Meir and Robert P. Weller. Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996.
Wu Ch’eng-en. Monkey. New York: Grove Press, 1970.
In an ongoing effort to clear up some misconceptions within the wider eclectic Wiccan community, we’d like to describe the traditional idea of a year and a day which is traditionally used to describe the time spent as a seeker, before initiation. Before we get into describing time periods and the process of properly approaching the religion known as Wicca, we should begin by setting some definitions for words that we are about to use. If you are a frequent reader of this blog (which is impossible, because we hardly ever post here), you’ll notice that we’ve mentioned a time or ten that eclectic Wiccans and traditional Wiccans are all speaking English, but hardly ever mean the same thing when they use many words.
Seeker: n. One that seeks: a seeker of the truth.
The question that the above definition should prompt is: what truth is one seeking? Let’s assume, for the sake of this discussion (monologue, really), that one is seeking the modern religion of Wicca. How does one go about seeking out the truth of Wicca? Well, the normal response of many people would be, “Why not ask a Wiccan?” Unfortunately, not everyone is normal. In fact, when it comes to those interested in Wicca, normal is, well, abnormal.
An unfortunate response to this question would be “Wicca is something you find within yourself.” While that is at most partially true, we posit that the larger truth is that Wicca is something within which you find yourself. And not just after being initiated, because then you find yourself in a Wiccan coven. We mean that the practice of witchcraft that is espoused by Wicca should be serving that age old and ultimate of classical pagan maxims: Know Thyself.
We digress; what is seeking? What is the traditional manner in which one undergoes this idea of “a year and a day?” Well, we hate to have to inform you (that’s a lie; we delight in it) that there is a word missing from this phrase. The true phrase is “At least a year and a day.” Do you see what we did there? We implied that there is a longer period of time in which people seek Wicca. We also indicated that this time has no set number, only that it lasts longer than a year. The whole “and a day” part means more “one year minimum” and less “exactly 366 days.”
Let us tell you a story about the history of Wicca. Long, long ago when the sun was newly formed and the planet had burst into life, there was the 1960s. I know, I know, this was before most of you were born, and if you remember it, you’re nearing death every day (you’re nearing death every day if you don’t remember it too, it’s just one of those things involved in being alive). In this Jurassic or Cretaceous or whatever period referred to as the 1960s, the very first Wiccan, Raymond Buckland, came to the pinnacle of the western world, the-flower powered United States of America. (Don’t come at us right now CVW people. No one knows when you showed up or who you showed up as, so we’re claiming first dibs on North America.) The fashion was awful, the hair was huge, and in stark relation to the bunch of stuff we just made up, the truth is that once Uncle Bucky got here (before his big blue book, even), he set up a Wiccan coven, and it was the only Wiccan coven in the entire USA.
Now, we were not in Ray’s coven, not in the individual sense, so we don’t know how exactly it operated. But since we’re definitely downline from it and got the bulk of our practice from that coven and its subsequent daughter and granddaughter covens, we can speak with some extremely limited authority on how things generally went during its tenure in New York and its daughter coven’s tenure on Long Island, and their daughter covens all over the eastern and western United States.
Covens are made of people witches. Wiccan covens are made of witches that are turned into Wiccans. What is the process of being turned into a Wiccan? Well, if you study hard and look for the right people, you may one day find out. But in this time of the 1960s and the 1970s, and hell, even today in the 2010s, people had to be brought into a coven. You don’t just show up accept the Goddess as your personal Lord and Savior in your heart and POOF, you’re a Wiccan and you get to come to our coven. Bringing people into the Craft is something that is never should never be undertaken lightly. You don’t just initiate anyone who walks slowly enough across your lawn. You’ll never get quality people that way. So there has to be a “getting to know you” period. Well, since people are all different, how can we determine a good time period for everyone to “get to know each other?”
We can do this by setting an open ended time period and giving it a minimum of a year and a day. And that is precisely what Wicca did. It espoused the idea that you never initiate anyone you haven’t known for at least a year. It was a sort of safety mechanism built in to keep covens from bringing in people they didn’t know well enough and to give the seeker enough time to get to know the coven and the coven enough time to get to know the seeker and for everyone to agree that it would be a good fit.
Sometimes it’s not a good fit. You may get along great with 4 out of 5 members of a coven, but for some reason that last person just rubs you the wrong way. That means you’re not a good fit for the coven. The coven is a group mind, a whole being, and if you don’t mesh with every part of it, there will be problems bringing you into that group mind. After a year, we like to think we’ll be able to adequately evaluate the whole situation and make a decision about initiation. Most people spend far more than a year and a day as a seeker. Some spend it as a dedicant to a coven, in an outer court. Some just happen to be longtime friends of the people running the coven and years later decide they’d like to take the plunge, and they get brought in. In this case, there’s been a long time for everyone to get to know each other and the decision can be made quite easily.
So where did this idea come from that a year and a day is exactly the amount of time it takes to become a Wiccan? Who spawned this idea that dedication is a thing where you spend a year and a day dedicated to studying Wicca by yourself? People. That’s who. People who didn’t know that the year and a day was a mechanism specific to covens and seekers evaluating each other. If you lived in rural Louisiana in the 1970s and read about Wicca in newspapers and magazines and wanted to become one, you would have needed to spend a lot of money traveling to New York or California or Kentucky (or Boston, because Alexandrians are Wiccans too), because that was where most of the Wiccans were at that point.
If that was not an option, as it likely wasn’t, then what was one to do? Well, easy! One could just decide that a year and a day is a great way to show dedication and prove that one is a Wiccan, because one read it on the internet. In the 70s. Makes total sense. This idea, in truth, didn’t really arise until the advent of the internet, when Wicca was written about widely both in print and online, and funneled out for mass consumption by organizations like the Llewellyn publishing house.
Much like the concept that the Book of Shadows is every witch’s personal grimoire and not the name Gardner gave to his working grimoire which held the rites of the Gods of the Wica that was handed down to his initiates, those outside of Wicca who desired entry but could not attain it (for many very legitimate, understandable, and not-their-fault reasons) decided to lift and switch another facet of our craft to suit their needs, which was entry into the cult from the outside, with no assistance or contact with actual priests of the religion.
Presently, one can find an endless array of misinformed people telling each other that a year and a day is everything from the proper solitary dedication period to how long one needs to wear white in order to start a Wiccan coven to the Nigerian Orisa Yemaya. Some appropriations of it are more obviously ludicrous than others. The fact remains though, and the point of this article, is that a year and a day is a minimum, not a solid number of semesters after which one gets a degree. If you really wish to seek entry into the Craft of the Wise (that’s fancy talk for Wicca), you should expect to spend more than just that minimum getting to know you period in forming what will ideally become a lifelong connection to your potential spiritual family and magical current.
Questions? Comments? Rants? Grammar Nazi crackdowns? Leave us a comment, and make it interesting.
Every day online, people are being bombarded with misinformation. From the Westboro Baptist Church to Fox News to ex-gay reparative therapy success stories like Michelle Bachman’s husband, the world is full of people who will lie to you because they desperately want to believe in the bullshit they’re spouting. It’s just a part of human nature, and it’s something that we, as witches, need to remain aware of. Sometimes people say untrue things to your face, and don’t even know that they are lying.
Take a five year old who tells you that Santa is coming to his house on Christmas to drop off gifts. It’s adorable. It’s cute. It’s something his parents told him on purpose. It’s not his fault that he believes it, because he’s five years old. Well, that’s the same as when people say “I’m Wiccan, but I don’t practice witchcraft. You can be Wiccan and not a witch.” It’s funny, it might even be cute in its obvious naivety, and it’s usually touted by total n00bs who are pretty ignorant about witchcraft and Wicca, but anyone with a functional brain can see that it’s patently false. The real question here is, “Why would anyone want to be Wiccan, but not a witch?” It’s like saying that you’re Christian, but not a member of an Abrahamic religion. Christian, but not monotheistic (zip it for five seconds you fabulous Mormon anomalies; we’re trying to make a point).
The simple truth is that Wicca is a type of witchcraft. The old adage is true: Not every witch is a Wiccan. Wicca is just one type of witchcraft. You can certainly practice other types of witchcraft, from Tubal Cain to Sabbatic Craft to… Sorry, we don’t really know of any other kinds because we’re ego-centric Wiccanate privilegers and well, we don’t need to know about any other kinds (love you, Feri peeps. Keep up that noble activist shit for the rest of us!) So while not every witch is a Wiccan, every single last Wiccan on this planet is, in fact, a witch. Or they’re full of shit about being a Wiccan.
All of this discussion relies on one thing, and that lynchpin to this retarded internet argument is unsurprisingly the one thing the witchcraft community on the interwebz likes to argue about the most: definitions. The definition of witchcraft that one uses will dictate what falls into that category, and what does not. Noting this simple truth, we concede that if your definition of witchcraft requires the sacrifice of one fluffy bunny per sabbat, and you simply don’t adhere to that rule, then according to your own guidelines, you can be a Wiccan without practicing witchcraft, and we want to sign up for this fabulous new type of the Arte magical. But let’s be real, the mistake that people are making online when championing this mentally disabled theory is in thinking that the only definition of witchcraft is casting a spell. And when I say casting a spell, I mean only in the most rudimentary, Hollywood type version of the phrase (i.e. DO MAGICK THINGS TO MAKE SHIT HAPPEN IRL OMG RULE OF THREE REDEREDEREDE!!!11one)
This can be best explained as the simplest of all assumed thaumaturgical (if it’s not a word, it is now, says us) endeavors:
- Light one green candle on a Thursday with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice on it
- Cast spell
But anyone with a brain will easily recognize two things: the spell and its ingredients above is way beyond the knowledge of most people claiming to be Wiccan but not witches, and that witchcraft encompasses so very much more than this. Typically within Wicca, many practitioners will not practice magic on the Sabbats, because you’re supposed to celebrate a holiday as your main endeavor. They can, but they tend not to unless it’s needed. That shit is usually best left to the full moon esbat or other astrologically ideal time. Does this mean that a Wiccan sabbat rite in which no “MAKE THIS HAPPEN RIGHT MEOW” magic is practiced is not technically witchcraft? Hardly.
Let’s get down to definitions. What is the definition of witchcraft? In a world where Merriam Webster’s dictionary has decided to abdicate rational thinking in favor of a Kim Kardashian universe app and declared that literally also now means figuratively because enough idiots pumpkin spice latte-drinking white girls were using it incorrectly, how can any word have meaning at all? Definitions have always changed over time to reflect evolving languages and populations, but nowadays it’s a struggle to hold on to any meaning when it comes to witchcraft. So what is essential to witchcraft? What is, in academic religious studies terms, its sin qua non? Well, let’s explore a few definitions of witchcraft, but not the OED’s because apparently you need to pay for that shit now. Fuck.
- the use of sorcery or magic (duh)
- communication with the devil or with a familiar (by this, they mean spirits)
- an irresistible influence or fascination (come on, you know you own at least ONE Silver Ravenwolf book.)
In the Bible (according to Dictionary.com)
(1 Sam. 15:23; 2 Kings 9:22; 2 Chr. 33:6; Micah 5:12; Nahum 3:4; Gal. 5:20). In the popular sense of the word no mention is made either of witches or of witchcraft in Scripture. The”witch of En-dor” (1Sam.28) was a necromancer, i.e., one who feigned to hold converse with the dead. The damsel with “a spirit of divination” (Acts16:16) was possessed by an evil spirit, or, as the words are literally rendered,”having a spirit,a pithon.”The reference is to the heathen god Apollo,who was regarded as the god of prophecy.[sic]
From this, we get the idea that the word witchcraft, as it has been used over time, encompasses the presence of and communication/interaction (either directly or simply through communication) with spirits, specifically referring to spiritual beings or entities other than the Judeo-Christian God. So we see here that witchcraft is both the casting of spells and conversing with spirits, and the definitions of spirits abound.
So let’s pretend, for just a moment, that a self-proclaimed Wiccan who adamantly insists that she is not a witch, is practicing a Wiccan ritual devoid of any spellcraft as she knows it. Will there be, unbeknownst to our poor damsel, any incognito witchcraft in that rite? No, because all of the witchcraft in a Wiccan rite is as fucking obvious as daylight to anyone who can see; she’s just an idiot.
Typical Wiccan ritual consists of:
- Cleansing and purifying the space and the practitioners. This alone is witchcraft. Smudging/saging (thanks, Native American cultural appropriation), incensing, creating holy water and asperging self and space, all are acts of spiritual cleansing, which, when not done in the name of the Abrahamic God, constitutes an act of witchcraft. Witches have historically performed cleansings on themselves and others to rid them and their space of unwanted and undue or evil influences. Wiccans do this, regularly, and any Wiccan who doesn’t is obviously not practicing Wicca correctly. This is witchcraft sign #1.
- Casting a circle. This is a big one. A circle is an act of magick. The witch is literally projecting energy to make manifest a spiritual/energetic boundary that creates a separation between two worlds, removing a space and creating it anew as betwixt and between, a place in which to work magick and communicate with spirits and the Gods. This is most assuredly an act of witchcraft by every definition.
- Calling/invoking/evoking the Quarters or Guardians or Watchtowers or elements. This one is so obvious that it should need no explanation, but since there are people in this world ignorant enough to think that Wicca is not witchcraft, perhaps it bears pointing out. What you are summoning, stirring, calling up and otherwise evoking, invoking or trying to grab the attention of, are spirits. They go by many names. The Guardians of the Quarters. The Watchers. The Grigori. The Airts. The Mighty Ones. The Dread Lords of the Outer Spaces. Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Madonna, and Elvis. Whatever. You are literally and figuratively calling out to spirits in an act of obvious and overt witchcraft by any and all definitions of the term held since its inception.
- Performing rites to the Gods. This usually involves speaking with the Gods or communing with the Gods, who are technically spiritual beings. This is also witchcraft as per the above definition adhered to within the English-speaking world.
- Cakes and Wine/Cakes and Ale/Cookies or Crackers and Apple Juice/Purple Drank and whatever’s handy. (Don’t forget to use the Crown Royal bag to store your tarot cards after it’s gone.) This is further communion with the Gods intended to internalize some part of Them or Their blessings similarly to Christians cannibalizing their dead God in order to grow closer to Him. Obvious witchcraft here, because it involves pagan deities.
- Doing everything in reverse. See above for why this was all witchcraft the first time around and use deductive reasoning for why it’s all probably still witchcraft the second time around.
Just because you’re not practicing one aspect of witchcraft doesn’t mean you’re not practicing another.
Just because your circle/rite/ritual did not involve casting a spell for prosperity, health, love, revenge, or to keep your mom from coming into your room because she’s such a nosy bitch in her own house and gods you can’t wait to move out, does not mean that your Wiccan ritual was otherwise devoid of witchcraft. If you took all of the witchcraft out of a Wiccan circle, you’d have a Buddhist meditation on nothingness, because you’d have yourself and nothing left. Maybe some incense.
It is perhaps important to note that the word Wica was originally used in modern English to refer to the practitioner, and not the religion. The witch was one of the Wica, and he/she was practicing a religion that had no name, that was most times referred to as The Old Religion, or, more often, witchcraft or the Craft. As British members of the Wica began to receive attention from the press, the media wanted a name for their religion, so the name of the priesthood was applied to the actual religion, but the Wica know from whence it came and how it is to be properly used and that the Old Religion is witchcraft.
We hope that this polite public service announcement has helped to clarify why all of Wicca is witchcraft and why all Wiccans are witches. So the next time you see someone online claiming to be a Wiccan but not a witch, feel free to drop the url to this article in the comments section and tag them in it. Every witch needs a good clue-by-four to the head early on in his/her Craft, and we’re happy to supply the lumber from the Tree of Knowledge. Oh wait, that *is* Christian. Oops.
As an addendum to this magico-religio diatribe, we’d like to leave you with the entry for the word Wicca in the Online Etymology Dictionary, to make a very simple point:
Wicca (n.) – An Old English masc. noun meaning “male witch…” see witch.
Wicca is the old English word for witch. You may now pick your jaw up off of the ground.
P.S. We’d love to hear our new favorite YouTube witch Thorn’s take on all of this. We bet it will be pithy, hilarious, and to the point. Check out all of her videos, you’ll love them as much as we do.
P.P.S. As usual, she delivered. Check it out.
Flagellation is a term that we used to constantly confuse with another term for something that occurs almost as regularly in Wiccan circles: flatulence. But now that we’re passed that (get it?), we’d like to explore this practice and its place in human spirituality over the last several centuries and how it may be used to enhance one’s practice of witchcraft.
When you use the arbiter of all things (Google) to define the word flagellation, you get a very interesting definition:
noun: flogging or beating, either as a religious discipline or for sexual gratification.
It’s important to note here that flagellation is being described as being used for either religious discipline OR sexual gratification. It doesn’t say “AND.” It says “OR.” Can it be both? Well, maybe, if you happen to have some sort of awesome religion involving BDSM or whatever the term for that is. But in pretty much all cases of historically recorded use of religious flagellation we’ve come across, its purpose is purely religious.
Instances of flagellation, specifically self-flagellation that have been widely documented in the West, occur within the two Abrahamic faiths of Christianity and Islam. The flagellation of Christ in christian mythology is an important part of the Passion of Christ, the name given to the suffering of Jesus which occurred in the days leading up to his crucifixion. In ritualized practices meant to align devout Christians with Christ’s experiences of suffering, especially in the Middle Ages, many Catholic monks, nuns and other lay and ordained orders practiced self-flagellation as a spiritual discipline. The mortification of the flesh is a well-documented practice undertaken by many Catholics throughout history, including such notable people such as Saint Therese of Lisieux and Pope John Paul II. Flagellation is only one type of mortification of the flesh that can be practiced in Catholicism. In the modern day world, self-flagellation is still practiced, especially around Easter time, in Catholic countries like the Phillipines, Mexico and Peru. (Thanks Wikipedia!)
Another well-documented instance of religious self-flagellation occurs in the Muslim world during the Shia festival of Muharram, which commemorates the death of Shia imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet, Mohammed. In Shia communities in countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon and India, Shi’ites still march in massive parades today while flogging themselves on the back with a variety of instruments involving knifes, whips, and chains as an expression of grief associated with mourning the loss of the imam.
Flagellation and the Scourge in Witchcraft
Flagellation, among other religious practices such as sleep deprivation, meditation and fasting, is known to produce altered states of consciousness. As the focus of this article is to explore the potential use and effect of flagellation within modern day Wicca or witchcraft, it is important to focus on its use in ritual to achieve trance states and the resulting change in consciousness. As one of the main goals within witchcraft is to produce an altered state of consciousness, the use of flagellation within a witchcraft would ritual makes perfect sense.
Gardner, during his life, was aware of the use of flagellation for religious purposes in Christian history, as he mentions the practice in his fictional book, High magic’s Aid (1949). You can read one such passage on page 63 in the previous link. The fictitious witch in this book, Morven, says that the scourge purifies the soul, adding a potential aspect of purification to the already long-established use of flagellation toward producing altered states of consciousness. This use is presented with an emphasis on a much more gentle use than that found in Catholicism or Shia Islam, as Morven also says that the witches prefer not to bring blood.
Many people like to accuse Gerald Gardner of proposing the use of the scourge in this fictional novel because he preferred it for the latter half of the above definition: sexual gratification. But such ad hominem accusations do a disservice to the simple fact that flagellation has been used in acts of religious and spiritual exploration for centuries in multiple religions. Gardner was a nudist, certainly, but over the last decade of exploring Wicca, we have found no indication that he practiced BDSM or any type of flagellation outside of the practice of witchcraft. He certainly spent plenty of time at naturist camps and retreats outside of Wicca.
The popular concept of the 8 Paths to Power or ways of magick magic within Wicca can be found in A Witches’ Bible by Stewart and Janet Farrar. The scourge itself is listed as one method, for obvious reasons all described above, and although a rare occurrence within the entirety of witchcraft, when utilized it would ideally be practiced in combination with meditation and breath work. The blending of different practices in complementary ways is a practice essential to working witchcraft and growing within our religion. When the use of flagellation and self-flagellation so historically documented and at times wide-spread within religious history, it should be of no surprise to anyone paying attention that this tool can also be utilized toward achieving altered states of consciousness with great effect in modern day witchcraft as well.
The popular misconception that there is a Wiccan Rule or Law of Three or Threefold Return comes from a misinterpretation of a passage in a work of fiction written by Gerald Gardner, the grandfather of modern Wicca. The book was called High Magic’s Aid, and he wrote it with the permission of his High Priestess. It had to be fiction because at that point, witchcraft was still illegal in Britain. In that book and its fictional story, the protagonist undergoes a sort of initiation rite in which he is taught “mark well when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold.”
This means that when someone does good by a witch, according to the witchcraft teaching in this *very* fictional novel, the witch is bound to return that good threefold. This is a far cry from “anything at all that you send out into the world will return to you threefold.” It actually means that what you do to a witch should be returned by her threefold, and specifically good acts. Which means it’s really, really good for you to bless, help or aid a witch. The idea is that the witch returns things triple, not the universe. The witch is herself the agent of a threefold response, not the universe. So if I, as a witch, do good work for a friend who is not a witch, there is no threefold return in that, because the non-Wiccan person was never taught to return good acts threefold. If I, as a witch, do a good work for my non-witch neighbor, there is no threefold return in that. But if I, as a witch, do a good work for my coven mate or my witch friend, then that friend or coven mate should return that good work threefold. if I, as a witch, do some nasty shit to my asshole neighbor, said neighbor will not return it to me, and even if she were a witch, she would only return it to me threefold if she somehow found out that something had been done to her, and who did it, which means that I did it poorly, and deserve the retribution.
You can find a copy of High Magic’s Aid, which is fiction meant to teach a few very broad witchcraft principles in a fictional way, here.
The part we are quoting is found on page 188. We recommend anyone who is familiar with the term Rule of Three to give it a read and think about what it really says and what it does not say. Keep in mind that this is a work of fiction which Gerald Gardner wrote to share some very generalized principles of the witchcraft he was taught at a time when witchcraft was still illegal in Britain (1949).
The insanely high number of uneducated voices on the internet that cry out “The Rule of Three!” whenever anyone even mentions negative magick tends to obscure the actual source into oblivion in favor of some fake, fluffy version of this principle which has been applied across the board to all magical undertakings in a rather ignorant and totalitarian manner. So the next time someone yells that phony baloney shit at you, politely inform them to eat a bag of scholarly dicks and drop them the link to this blog.
The Book of Shadows is the collection of the rites of the Wica, as they were learned, fleshed out and passed by Gerald Gardner in the mid 20th century. There is a very common misconception today within the eclectic witchcraft community which claims that any witch can write a personal grimoire (a collection of spells, workings, magickal information, meditations, etc…) and that this book becomes his or her Book of Shadows. This is untrue. Such a book would be relevant only to that witch and his/her experience and would have little or no bearing on another witch. The Book of Shadows is used by the entirety of the Wica, from Gardnerians to Alexandrians to other traditions within the modern religion of Wicca which continue to pass the rites which Gerald Gardner made available.
We actually like the Wikipedia article about the Book of Shadows and recommend that each witch give it a quick read. While we have read most of Stewart and Janet Farrar’s writings, own a copy of Lady Sheba’s work, and have read Charles Cardell’s writings, we have yet to come across an actual, complete copy of the Book being made available to the public. While there are certainly plenty of little parts of the original which have been published, these writings, devoid of the oral lore which traditionally accompanies them, would leave a witch rather confused and unable to work the rites in a very effective manner. It’s rather difficult to hold a proper rite for the Goddess of the Wica if one does not know Her Name, or how to do it, outside of some verbiage and loose, context-less stage directions.
Without getting into how Gardner developed the Book of Shadows, attention should be drawn to the purpose which it serves in modern day Wicca. The Book of Shadows is both an object of focus & learning and a tool which facilitates the actual learning process itself. There are many different mechanisms and formalities which have evolved around it and its transmission from initiator to initiate. We have heard a plenitude of accounts from others of the Wica about the wonderful time spent at the covenstead (the location in which the coven meets, frequently the home of the High Priest/ess or other member of the coven) physically copying the Book of Shadows in their own handwriting while asking questions of their high priest/ess. In this situation, the book itself serves as the source of primary information, as well as a focal point around which learning is facilitated. We have found that much, if not most, oral lore is passed this way, in the presence of the BoS or during its copying. Some treat this process as sacred in itself, a sort of passing of the tutelary tradition within Wicca, with which we agree.
There are, however less common, plenty of covens in which physical copies/xeroxes of parts of the book are passed from initiator to initiate, for the initiate to hand copy on their own. This is a system which is usually found in situations where the coveners live at some distance from each other, which makes the ability to meet more challenging and likely less frequent. In almost all cases, if not all, the initiate would still be asking questions as copying progresses, though frequently via telephone or online communication with his/her initiators. Regardless of the manner in which the Book of Shadows is passed, it serves the same functions for most witches who possess it; it passes the tradition (rites and accompanying information) of Wicca and it serves as a point of learning and understanding of what is being passed from initiator to initiate.
If one were to espouse only a shallow view of the Book of Shadows, one may fall prey to the simplistic idea that any religion attached to a written text becomes old, archaic and frequently outdated. The Christian Bible espouses such awful and archaic practices such as slavery, selling one’s children into said slavery, and a host of other offences to the decency of modern man (stoning is such a lovely thing, regardless of which millennium in which it’s implemented, no?). But the Bible is also something that is interpreted differently by different sects of Christianity. The Westboro Baptist ‘God Hates Fags’ motto is a far cry from the inclusive, loving and Christ-like attitude of the Anglican communion. Similarly, diversity exists within traditional Wicca, with different traditions and even different covens in the same traditions placing more or less emphasis on certain aspects of traditional praxis found within the Book of Shadows. One of the old Wiccan adages is that one should not remove from the tradition, though one is certainly free to add to it (within the spirit of the Craft). In this manner, the tradition, or the core of the practice of Wicca is preserved and transmitted to each new generation of witches within our cult while the freedom to improvise, experiment and infuse new life into the Craft is assured and celebrated.
How does your tradition of Wicca view the Book of Shadows? Feel free to comment below.
(+5 points to anyone who recognizes the image!)
Ecstasy is an amazing study. And we studied the ever-loving $#!+ out of it in high school and in college, let us tell you. But we’re not talking about MDMA here. This entry will be devoted to religious ecstasy, the type of which changes one as a person, as a soul, and causes a paradigm shift incapable of being put into words. It is very firmly one (or all) of the Mysteries referred to within the modern Western Mystery Tradition and it is certainly not limited to something as new and early in its evolution as Wicca. Religious ecstasy is as old as religion itself, older than the written word, and so a true study of it will take one back to the formation of the earliest alphabets and records of human religion.
Let’s define the word ecstasy, shall we? Google, the arbiter of all things modern, gives two definitions, one simple, and one more in-depth. The simple one says “an overwhelming feeling of great happiness or joyful excitement.” True. Put plain and simple, it’s the kind of happiness that overwhelms you. We tend to understand it more as the second definition provided: “an emotional or religious frenzy or trancelike state, originally one involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence.” This is where we get at the concept of religious ecstasy. It takes one outside of oneself, outside of one’s normal perception, bestowing upon the one experiencing it a sense of a greater meaning or understanding, however fleeting the experience may be.
Being of European descent, we shall describe in the third person our first experiences with the very concept of religious ecstasy as coming from Christianity. Since we are Wiccan and therefore love all things involving the Renaissance Faire, we quickly turn toward medieval Christian mysticism to grasp concepts of religious ecstasy from a time when the new religion from the east was transforming itself after syncretizing with the old beliefs of the west. So let us wax philosophical on a not-so-brief detour through medieval Christianity to highlight a few examples of certain mystics’ descriptions of their own ecstatic experiences, shall we?
Bernard of Clairvaux was a 12th century French abbot, Cistercian monk and Doctor of the Church. Many modern neo-pagan jokes about him could be made regarding absinthe, cis-gendered Cistercians (what a cissy!) and a few other things upon reading his Wikipedia page, but let’s cut to the chase. He viewed the relationship between the divine Word (Jesus/God) and the individual soul as a spiritual marriage between the heavenly Bridegroom (Jesus/God) and the human bride. That’s right, in 12th century French Christianity, this man made sure that everyone, regardless of gender, had the right to be a spiritual bridezilla (TLC reality show to follow). The fun part is that it was a good thing which emphasized a sacramental humaneness, with love as its focus, which shaped Christian piety, spirituality and mysticism from his day until ours. This emphasis on love as a central theme of the unity with the divine that causes a sense of spiritual ecstasy is a theme that repeats itself almost indefinitely within Christendom, the prevailing European model of religion for millenia.
Mechtild of Magdeburg, a 13th century Beguine (a sort of prototype for nuns) and Christian mystic left us with writings full of the courtly love of her time. She depicted love as Christ, positioning it as the end-all-be-all with a revulsion of the body so that the mind and soul could fly to meet God. She had out of body experiences leading to religious ecstasy and union with the divine. She depicted a melding of love and suffering as a mechanism for union with Jesus and melting into God.
Richard Rolle, a 14th century mystic, was heralded as one of the great English mystics of the Middle Ages. He wrote a work called The Fire of Love, in which he describes his divine encounters by dividing the nature of the experience into three unique stages. The first, he described as the sensation of spiritual fire, a glowing presence accompanied by the feeling of physical warmth in his chest. The second was marked by an overwhelming sense of peace and joy, a taste of sweetness in his soul. Finally, Rolle explains how in the third stage, the glorious song of angels resounds, signifying his union with God’s divine love.
The theme runs rampant through western mystical experience: God is Love. The mystical experience of union with God, the religious ecstasy that has been the hallmark of Saints and ascetics for time imemorial is time and again being conflated with and described as love, from almost every angle and in every way. Love is sublime. Love is divine. So what does the experience of mystical union with the divine, of religious ecstasy within Wicca, have to do with love, if anything? What is the role of love within modern day Wicca?
Take a look at any random version of the Charge of the Goddess, a fundamental piece of publicly available popular Wiccan literature heavily adapted from Lelands Aradia: Gospel of the Witches and Aleister Crowley’s writings.
“And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in Her praise.“
Wicca teaches that love is something that praises the Goddess of the witches, and that doing so is a sign of freedom. Religious ecstasy has almost always been described as a liberating experience, one which lifts the mystic up and out of his/her human experience, elevating him/her to the level of the Divine so that some part of it may be shared through the experience. it is the ultimate experience of freedom from this mortal coil, the result of which is an embodiment of Godhead, unity with the divine.
“For Hers is the ecstasy of the spirit, and Hers also is joy on earth; for Her law is love unto all beings.“
The cult teaches quite clearly that the ‘ecstasy of the spirit’ belongs to a Goddess who’s ‘law is love unto all beings.’ In love, the state and the act, we can and should find our connection with the Lady of the Moon, who is the Queen of all witcheries. In love, we should seek awareness of Her and of our connection to Her.
‘Nor does She demand sacrifice, for behold, She is the mother of all living, and Her love is poured out upon the earth.‘
This simple statement rejects the heretofore held necessity within the prevailing Christian paradigm for suffering as a requirement for unity with the Divine. It replaces this concept with the veneration of the Mother, and specifically a mother’s love, which is posited as being freely given and available to all upon the Earth. But where to find it? Where to even begin to look?
“Before Her face, beloved of gods and men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite. Let Her worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals.“
The Charge continues to assert the common understanding that to behold the face of the Divine is to be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite, a fittingly Wiccan description for religious ecstasy. The blatant accessibility of this Goddess is made manifest in the declaration that not just the inner-court and oathbound rites of the brotherhood of the Wiccae constitue all of Her rituals, but *all* acts of love and pleasure provide access to Her and to Her Mysteries. When we seek for the Goddess we should look to find her, in accord with her own Charge, not outside of own individual experience, in unreachable temples and covens that venerate her in secret, but within ourselves and our own experiences of love. When we recognize that She exists within us and within the very feeling and state of love, then do we find true liberation and union with the divine.
“And thou who thinkest to seek Her, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, She has been with thee from the beginning; and She is that which is attained at the end of desire.“