Month: February 2015

The Wiccan Rede Is Not A Poem

It’s late and I’m on my second whiskey ginger, so I’ll try to make this brief. Oh shit, I forgot to use the royal we. Ignore that shit. We’re going to lay some truth bombs on you, general pagan masses. This is an ancient secret kept by the Wica from time immemorial, and it’s one of the secret tests we use to determine who’s legit, so write this shit down, cause it gives you some real serious Wiccan street cred:

THE WICCAN REDE IS NOT A POEM.

Did you get that? THE REDE IS NOT A POEM. IT DOESN’T EVEN RHYME. Let that shit sink in.

The entirety of the Wiccan Rede is eight words long: “An it harm none, do what ye will.”  That’s the whole thing. Anything other than that isn’t the Wiccan Rede. Let’s talk a little bit about its verbiage and its history, and by that, we mean “let us regurgitate shit to you from Wikipedia because it’s late and we’re buzzed.”

“The word “Rede” derives from Middle English, meaning “advice” or “counsel.” (Too drunk to find and install WordPress footnote plugin, but the thought was there, so feel special.) So basically, the Rede of the Wicca is a piece of advice or a bit of counsel. What do we know about advice/counsel? It’s non-binding. If it were binding, it would be called a law, or doctrine, or a tenet, or something. But it’s not, so it’s just advice. It basically means “If it doesn’t hurt anyone (or anything), then go right the fuck ahead.”

We also remember that admittedly strange period in high school where math class suddenly involved “if/then” shit. WTF was that anyway? We totally blocked that out until just now. That was some whack shit, right? WTF does If/Then have to do with math? God damn. But we digress. Following simple logic (or some vague attempt at tautologies), we see this: the word “An” in the Wiccan Rede translates to the modern English word “If.” When we say “If,” we’re qualifying something. If X is true, then Y. So IF you are pregnant, THEN you will have medical bills. It’s a simple statement of one thing predicates another. But IF you are NOT pregnant, then you may or may not have medical bills OR a shotgun wedding. Basically, an IF statement has nothing to do with something that does not meet that IF. Like, IF you graduate high school, you have a shot at going to college. IF you don’t graduate high school, then you do you, boo, and god help you. You get that rent money however you can, mama.

So, the Rede says, “If it harms none.” That means that the second half “do as ye will” only applies to situations in which “It harms none.” Makes perfect sense. If it’s not hurting anybody, go right ahead. That might be why there are so many homosexuals in Wicca and why we love a good same-sex handfasting. They’re not hurting anybody, especially straight marriage. And let’s be honest, who’s more likely to have open bar: DINKS or people with kids? But what about situations in which you are definitely going to fuck a bitch up? Let’s apply it then.

Does your situation harm none? No? It harms multiple persons? Let’s see if that fits our if/then situation. “If it harms none,” OH WAIT IT DOES HARM SOMEONE. Ok, so where’s the “IF IT HARMS ONE” rede? There isn’t one. There is nothing that says anything about harmful/baneful magic. The Rede says nothing about it. The Rede does not say “HARM NONE! HARM NONE! THIS IS THE WICCAN PRIME DIRECTIVE! HARM NONE!” It basically says nothing at all about harmful magic, because that is the provence of each witch’s individual conscience. Besides, who’s going to tell you not to stop a known rapist? No one.

So, now that we got that out of the way (OMG WICCANS CAN DO BLACK MAGIC OMG!!!11one), let’s move on to that ghastly poem which was erroneously entitled “The Wiccan Rede.”

100% Wikipedia: “In 1974 a complete twenty-six line poem entitled “The Wiccan Rede” was published in the neo-Pagan magazine Earth Religion News. Each line contained a rhymed couplet laid out as a single line, the last line being the familiar “short rede” couplet beginning “Eight words…”.

This poem was shortly followed by another, slightly different, version, [sic] entitled the “Rede Of The Wiccae”, which was published in Green Egg magazine by Lady Gwen Thompson. She ascribed it to her grandmother, Adriana Porter, and claimed that the earlier published text was distorted from “its original form”. The poem has since been very widely circulated and has appeared in other versions and layouts, with additional or variant passages. It is commonly known as the “Long Rede”.

100% A Gardnerian: GWEN THOMPSON WAS NOT WICCAN. Repeat: NOT WICCAN. So a non-Wiccan witch came in and took a Wiccan principle that Doreen uttered in the 60s and then wrote a poem about it. THAT’S LOVELY! But it has nothing to do with our religion. If we wrote a poem about the Pledge of Allegiance involving enemas and Summer’s Eve, NONE OF YOU WOULD BE REQUIRED TO DOUCHE DURING HOMEROOM.

Just like we can’t walk into a Catholic Church and write poems about their catechism and expect them to be forced to adhere to it, a non-Wiccan cannot write Wiccan dogma. Hell, even a Wiccan can’t write Wiccan dogma. We’re an orthopraxic religion, not an orthodoxic one. (Missing footnote here too, because tomato, tomahto.)

So the next time someone tells you that the Wiccan Rede is a bunch of crazy harm none shit, just drop them a link to this article and tell them it involves a lot of swear words.

 

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American Council of Witches 2015

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.

 

coven, witchcraft, wicca

When A Coven Comes to Its End

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.”

Read it here.

Kwan Yin

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.

 

 

Works Cited
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.

A Year and a Day: No Way

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.

*BB*

Gardnerian(s)