Labor Day Weekend is usually quiet on the Pagan front, but not so much this year. On Sunday morning a friend sent me a message saying: “the idea that you have to be initiated to be Wiccan is going around again.” Much of that debate was inspired by this article on the website Gardnerians. Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of Gardnerians, it’s snarky and informative, but when it comes to the idea that one must be an initiate to be a Wiccan I’m in complete disagreement. Here’s a little bit of the post that upset my friend so much:
“Just as you cannot ordain yourself a Catholic priest, you similarly cannot initiate yourself as a priestess of Wicca. That is something that is done for us, by others of us . . . . Many pagans who lean toward Wicca but are uninitiated are under the false perception that they can initiate themselves into Wicca and become a priest or priestess by reading books and deciding that yes, they are feeling priestly. The sad thing is that these are usually the same people that don’t know that there is one Book of Shadows that is used in Wicca (in forms that vary slightly from coven to coven) . . . . .
To be initiated, you must be put through the Wiccan initiation rite present in the Book of Shadows. Hell, even if you want to go an eclectic route that doesn’t even use the Wiccan rites, have at it: but initiation will still be required for membership into pretty much any form of Wicca even if they do silly, un-Wiccan things like keep their clothes on.”
The moment we begin a relationship with deity and magic inside a ritual circle we are acting as Priestesses and Priests. There is no barrier between a Witch and the powers they serve (and that serve them). Just because one is a Priest or a Priestess though does not mean that they are a “High Priestess” or anything or that their authority extends anywhere beyond the circle they’ve cast. But I have to believe that what we do is about breaking down barriers between mortals and the divine. (This doesn’t of course mean every Priest or Priestess is doing things in a way to achieve maximum efficiency.)
I sympathize with other Wiccans who believe that initiation is a prerequisite to calling ones self Wiccan because that was the way of things for several decades. Wicca was originally an initiation only tradition. If you wanted the rituals and wanted to practice you had to be an initiate. That was the way of things until the 1970′s when the first “101″ books complete with rituals began to show up on the shelves.
It should be pointed out that most of those books used the word Witchcraft to define the (Wicca-like) systems they described, most but not all. Raymond Buckland’s The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft (1974) has the word Wicca literally right on page one, though it’s Wicca with one “c” (something we will get to a bit later). It’s important to remember that the entire point of The Tree was to provide a non-initiatory form of the Craft to interested persons.
Certainly to be a Gardnerian Witch (or a Witch of any tradition) one must have a valid initiation. No one has ever argued against that position. Even if someone were to have a complete copy of a Gard Book of Shadows (BoS) they still wouldn’t be a Gardnerian because much of the point is lineage. Having a book doesn’t connect you to a family tree, nor does it reveal the oral tradition associated with the tradition.
One of the problems with words is that they evolve over time and their meanings often change. At some point it’s no longer “you are using the word wrong” and it becomes “this is the new definition of the word.” As far as “word evolvement” goes one needs look no further than the word Wicca its self. In Triumph of the Moon Professor Ronald Hutton shares a bit of history surrounding the word Wicca:
“The 1950s were the decade in which Gerald Gardner announced the existence of of his with religion to the world . . . . .In 1954 his book Witchcraft Today gave that religion a generic name of ‘Wica,’ adapted by the 1960s to its enduring form of ‘Wicca,’ . . . The word in in Gardner’s spelling occurs only in Chamber’s Dictionary of of Scots-English, where it means ‘wise’ and this volume may have well been the source for it. The later adaptation resulted from the older and more precise connotation of the Saxon wicca, signifying a male witch (female version wicce).”
In his published works Gardner consistently uses the word Wica and he uses it in a way that’s equivalent to how we use the words “The Wiccans” or “The Witches” today. It’s not the name of a religion, it’s the name of a practitioner. Here’s Gardner’s one use of the word in Wica in Witchcraft Today (1954):
“These Wica generally work for good purposes and help those in trouble to the best of their ability. Of course whatever you do in this world you tread on someone’s toes; if a witch raised a good crop of corn in the old days, people complained she was deflating the prices. I think it unwise to lay down the law without knowing the subject.”
Gardner doubles down on Wica in The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). In that book he uses the word seventeen times, this is the most famous instance:
“I realised that I had stumbled on something interesting; but I was half-initiated before the word ‘Wica’ which they used hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and that the Old Religion still existed. And so I found myself in the Circle, and there took the usual oath of secrecy, which bound me not to reveal certain things. In this way I made the discovery that the witch cult, that people thought to have been persecuted out of existence, still lived.”
Gardner’s use of Wica in Meaning matches his use of it in Witchcraft Today, it’s not the name of a religion but the name of a religion’s adherents. “Is there a future for the Craft of the Wica?” he writes on page 257 of the version I’m looking at. I’m quoting this because it’s a crystal-clear example of how he uses the word.
Curiously Gardner actually uses the word wicca six times in The Meaning of Witchcraft but it’s all limited to a discussion on word history. Here’s the first instance:
“By this time the Celts in their out-of-the-way dwellings were regaining their prosperity, and the Danish-Saxon lawgivers began making laws against the aboriginal magic they feared. As they had no witches of their own they had no special name for them; however, they made one up from wig, an idol, and laer, learning, wiglaer, which they shortened into wicca.”
So Gardner was clearly aware of a spelling with two c’s, he just chose not to use it.
In the tradition of Gardner I count myself very much among “the Wica” and the only way to be “of the Wica” is to be an initiate. I sometimes feel like I’m taking the easy way out by writing such things, but I also believe it to be true. Also no one’s ever been offended when I’ve said the only way to be of the Wica is to be an initiate of the Wica. It certainly cuts down on hurt feelings and it also retains Gardner’s original use of the term.
The words Wicca and Wiccan became popular during the 1960′s, but probably owe their popularity to one of Gardner’s earliest critics. In 1958 a witch going by the name of Charles Cardell claimed to be Wiccen in an English occult magazine, and soon thereafter declared “war” on Gardner and his initiates. (1) There’s some disagreement over whether or not Cardell’s wiccen was what lead to the word Wicca becoming commonplace. In 1960 a satirical poem by a friend of Gardner’s used the word Wicca in reference to Cardell and his sister Mary:*
‘We feel it is tragick
That those who lack Magick.
Should start a vendetta
With those who know betta
We who practice the Art
Have no wish to take part
Seems a pity the ‘Wicca’
Don’t realise this Quicca.’ (2)
By the early 1960′s the words Wica and Wicca began showing up in increasing frequency in British occult magazines. Melissa Seims sums up that history in her article Wica or Wicca:
Another example of the word ‘Wica’ being used in a defining way can be seen in a 1963 letter sent from Arnold Crowther to Gardner. The letter has the phrase ‘The Wica detective agency’ at the top and is about Crowther’s investigations into a new Witch that had appeared on the publicity scene – Alex Sanders. Such ‘detective’ work was probably partially inspired by the fact that Alex, who started to appear in the media in 1962, initially showed a clear preference for the one ‘c’ spelling. Arnold’s reference to himself as ‘The Wica Detective Agency’ reveals a sense of ownership of the word ‘Wica’.
This same year also sees the following advertisements appearing in Fate Magazine. One was for a ‘Wica Perthshire Circle’. This is almost certainly Monique and Scotty Wilson. Another advert is for ‘Wicca – Dianic and Aradian’ based in Cardiff Wales. Mary Cardell was originally from Wales and Diana is the main Goddess mentioned in the Atho material which appears to have originated with Cardell, so it seems likely that this advertisement is something to do with them.
By the late 1960s a glance through newspaper archives will readily show that the word ‘Wicca’ is increasing in frequency. This isn’t to suggest that Cardell’s Witchcraft was gaining strength but rather that people were becoming more aware of the etymology of the word and had started to assume that Gardner had mis-spelt it in the first instance. Additionally the writings of Doreen Valiente (whose more perspicacious personality generally chose correct etymology over Gardner’s spelling), were also increasing in frequency and I suspect that her use of Wicca served a double purpose. For not only was it etymologically correct, but it also meant that she could aid in reclaiming a word that she considered Cardell as unworthy of using. Other 1960s writings by Justine Glass and June John’s book, King of the Witches, also used ‘Wicca’, with Glass stating that ‘Wiccan’ was the correct plural form of ‘Wicce’. By the end of the 1960s its reclamation was just about complete.
In fifteen years the Wica became Wicca with traditions outside direct linkage to Gardner also using the term. By the middle of the 1970′s people even further removed from Gardner (and even Alex Sanders) began using the term to describe themselves. By the early 1980′s the name was being used in titles of books and in 1989 Llewellyn published Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide For the Solitary Practitioner forever putting the words Wicca and Wiccan in the hands of anyone who wished to claim them.
Has this all been good for Wicca? That’s up for every individual Witch to decide, but I probably wouldn’t be here without an eclectic path to first wander down. At this point in my life I’m comfortable calling anyone who casts a circle, calls quarters, invokes deity, and celebrates cakes and ale a Wiccan. I know that position is not popular in every circle, but I just don’t feel as if I have the authority to say who is what and who is not what. If someone has eighteen books on their shelf with the word “Wicca” on them and they self-identify that way who am I to stop them? What purpose does that serve? Words get away from us and it’s hard to police their meanings after they do so. Besides no one who self-identifies as a Wiccan and hears “you’re not a Wiccan” from an initiate is likely to change how they view themselves.
*Mary Cardell was not really Charles’s sister but that’s how they introduced themselves to others. The Cardells were odd ducks.
1. From The Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton, Oxford University Press, 1999. This is from page 298, but Hutton writes about Cardell for about three pages.
2. Taken from this awesome article (Wica or Wicca) from The Cauldron issue 129 by Melissa Seims.
Our brother over at the House of the Midnight Sun has written a 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief that we can really get behind. Here’s a little taste:
“To be a witch or even a Wiccan coven leader does not necessarily mean I need to be a pillar of the community in service to any and all. I am in service to my gods and spirits and to the people they bring to me for help, not every single person who emails me or stops me in the street.”
Also, there’s rum.
Go read it.
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.
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.
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.
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!)