Wiccan phrases

Casting for Beginners

Casting is a funny term, and we here at ye olde Gardnerians blogge find that there are quite an unfortunate number of persons on the interwebz who are using it as though it has only one meaning. So, in an effort toward better communication, let’s take a walk down dictionary lane…

Technically, casting is a noun which refers to an object made by pouring molten metal or other material into a mold. Many of your pagan statuettes may be castings of original designs. We know that some of ours are, and we love them.

casting

But let’s take a moment to discuss the verb “cast.”

Cast: /kast/ v. 1. Throw (something) forcefully in a specified direction.
Lemmings cast themselves off the cliff.
2. Cause (light or shadow)) to appear on a surface.
The moon cast a pale light over the cottages.

So, to cast means to throw (even light or shade, depending on your mood). Great. What does the single word cast not imply? That what you are throwing is a spell.

Magic incorporates many different practices and experiences that vary in size, scope, and effect in almost every facet. Magic can be an internal process, an external process, a sudden occurrence or seeming coincidence, or it can be the knock-your-socks-off kind of mystical experience that grants union with the divine, the innate knowledge of the workings of the universe, or even an inexplicable fondness for Canadian bacon. Really, there is no limit to what could be magic to someone, even if it makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE AND IS REALLY JUST HAM WITH A VERBAL VENEER OF GODLINESS.

Canadian Bacon

What witchcraft is this?

Casting spells is one little sub-division of magic. Despite what you may come across in public witchcraft forums, it’s not the end-all, be-all of witchcraft or Wicca specifically. Wiccans and all witches, really, cast many things. Some of them work in entertainment and they cast actors in movie and TV roles. Some go fishing and they cast lures. While any of this can be done in a magical way, not all of them are. Many witches are proficient at divination, and cast lots, or runes, or those Ogham stick things we bought when we were 16 and never actually used but still have in a box somewhere. Witches also cast spells, but of the many things we’ve listed here, spells are only one type.

So when someone in a witchcraft forum online says, “What are you casting for?” they somehow forget that witches are people deeply involved in the world, and that witches cast many things for many reasons and not all of them are spells. People who use the solo term ‘casting’ to explicitly refer to casting a spell are displaying a type of ignorance not befitting a witch who is worth her words, and in doing so must remain ever aware that a frequent response will be others more adept at communication raising an eyebrow and casting aspersions on them and their faculties, and no one wants that. So be a hero and pair your verb with a noun, you know, for the sake of sounding at all erudite.

initiation

Belief Does Not Equal Initiation

Wicca is not Christianity. Accepting the Goddess as your Lord and Savior does not automatically make you a Wiccan. Hell, doing that with Jesus doesn’t even make you Christian in most instances; you’d need a baptism, and that requires, *gasp*, an actual other Christian! Rites of passage, rites of entry, ordination, and initiation are all terms for similar processes. These rites which bring an individual into the group are things that necessitate an “other” into which one is being brought. 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.

I can’t initiate myself into the Masons or into a fraternity, but that doesn’t mean that my Abercrombie and Fitch wardrobe complete with pooka shell necklace doesn’t make me every ounce the cologne-abusing douchenozzle that a fraternity brother is. We may actually be quite similar in some sad, misinformed 90s way. But one is a frat brother and the other is…probably should become a frat brother, by pledging, binge drinking, and being initiated.

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, dependent on whether you’re a Gardnerian or a Gardnerian-lite, aka Alexandrian, and where you are). We all have the same rites, we perform the same or similar sabbats which enact the mythology of our Gods, which we also share. We do amazing and unique rituals during full moons, even though we also have a shared liturgy for that, and whenever we have need, so there’s little chance for our practice to become stagnant or stuffy. Our rituals are like the setting up of the diving board off of which we may choose to flip, twist, swan dive, or hit our heads and eat shit because we tried something we weren’t ready for. We’re all human, afterall and everyone can’t be Greg Louganis (but everyone should LOOK like 90s Olympics Greg Louganis).

Greg louganisSrsly.

These IRAB (I read a book) ‘Wiccans’ are also often the first and loudest in attempting to assert misinterpretations of some of our teachings in an effort to control and restrict other witches, which, to those of us who are initiated, is just silly. Just as we know that there is no universal law or rule of threefold return and also that the Rede of the Wicca is only eight words long and advice, not law, we also know that it takes more than reading and meditating and cultural appropriation to become one of the Wica.

Most of us have to seek. The vast majority of us, in fact. True, there are some witches who were so utterly lucky that they discovered there was a coven next door or down the street or maybe even multiple covens in the same town (I’m looking at you, Louisville, KY, Sandwich, MA, half the south shore of MA, and Salem.) But a fundamental part of each of our witches’ journies is their eventual coming home to the Wica. It’s a feeling we all share, one that we all relate to. It takes time and dedication and perseverance, and when it finally results in initiation, the feeling of finally making it back home is practically palpable. We are among our own kind once again, and that is one of the keys to unlocking the magic inherent in ourselves and in the worlds we straddle.

The first step toward initiation into Wicca is what we call seeking. No, that’s not getting on your broom and chasing down a flying golden ball called a snitch. Snitches get stiches. We’re gangster like that. Just ask, what was his name again..? Seeking is when you actively start to look for the right group of people for you. Seeking is often times done online, by scouring Witchvox.com, Facebook groups, Twitter, and a ton of other places. You have to look. A lot. There’s no guarantee that you will find anything even remotely possible, but therein lies part of the mystery. You might overlook a coven nearby for months before the time is right and the observation is made and comes slamming down into your consciousness. You may find no coven within 500 miles. You may have to board a plane or a train or an automobile and travel great distances, because you want to and because it’s worth it to you to make this happen. It takes sacrifice. All of these things have happened before: some people flew from Poland to the UK for training, regularly, for years. Some people just walked down the block. Wicca exists in Tasmania. TASMANIA FOR GODS’ SAKES. I even heard that one of us has been to Antarctica. Baller.

rae-bone-initiation

Seeking is also something that starts within. Who is it that we must ask when we wish to find other witches? Strangers on the internet always make for a fascinating foray in most situations, but truly, the first beings that should be asked are the Gods. Don’t know Their traditional names? No worries, They’ll hear you. We have a monopoly on what we call Them, but we don’t control Their ability to hear other witches who are trying to find their way back to Them. In fact, we count on it. Ask the Gods. Have a circle, light your candles, and make an honest and earnest plea to Them to lead you in the right direction, to bring you to the right people and to bring the right people to you. Amazing magic can be worked when you have an honest need and ask for the assistance of our Gods in seeing it come to fruition, especially if it brings you closer to Them and Their service. Thaumaturgy is fun, but theurgy is fucking amazing.

Spellwork to find a coven should be a logical first thought and one of the first steps taken when seeking. Some witches decide to incorporate this into a ritual for themselves which we commonly refer to as a dedication. They dedicate themselves officially toward studying the Craft for a certain period of time, frequently a year and a day because that is the traditional minimum amount of time a coven will wait in order to get to know a seeker and for a seeker to get to know them. When you’ve seen someone in every season, you get an idea of whether you will mesh with them and whether they would be a good fit for the group.

A dedication is not initiation, but it’s a start on the road toward it. Spellwork to assist you and strengthen your resolve, to grant insight and to bring one closer to the Gods is a great idea, especially when you place no specifics on it and ask for Them to enable you as They see fit. Magic with our Gods’ assistance can accomplish much.

Even though spellwork and magic are all about visualization and fiercely reinforcing your visualization with energy and intent, THERE IS NO SPELL THAT MAGICALLY INITIATES YOU ALL BY YOURSELF IN YOUR HEAD OR YOUR MOM’S BASEMENT WHILE EVERYONE ELSE IS AT CHURCH. 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.

alexandrian-ritual

The hard thing is that options are limited by everything from age to geographical location, frequently depending on transportation and thus either income or municipal transit. If any of these are lacking enough to be a barrier, then that is where your efforts are best suited. Don’t have enough money for a bus pass? Work some prosperity magic, get yourself a better job or an additional job and work your way up toward car ownership as a means to be able to get to coven. Ask the Gods for help with these things as well. You need to be the change required for magic to successfully help you, and the Gods help those who help themselves. The Gods can also help you get a bus pass. I’ve seen it because I’ve been the one shelling out the $80 for a friend to make it to circle reliably. We’re a family, after all.

The great part is that it’s worth it. The best part is that initiation into the Wica comes with family. You become a brother or sister of the Art, and you will have coven siblings and a veritable shit ton of craft siblings around the world who will meet up with you at Pantheacon, invite you to stay at their place in the Netherlands, and generally be completely wonderful to you for no other reason than the fact that you have something truly wonderful and unique on common: a devotion to the Craft, to our Gods, and enough will power to find your way home to all of us. Initiation is a welcoming, and it is also a transformation. I highly recommend it. So don’t half-ass it. Get up and seek.

 

 

wicca ritual

What To Do When Your Lineage Isn’t Gardnerian (other than cry)

Lineage. We all have it. It’s what links us to our ancestors. It’s what predisposes us to things like celiac disease and alcoholism and being hilarious (if you’re Irish enough). Genetic lineage is passed in the womb. Paternal lineage was traditionally passed when you’re born in wedlock. One’s lineage says, to a degree, who they are, and also implies what they were exposed to, how they may have been raised, and what they are likely to inherit.

Wiccan lineage is similar to filial lineage in many ways. While being made a Gardnerian doesn’t expose you to any specific disease other than the very American High Priestess disease, what it does do is ensure that you went through our initiation rite and were exposed to very specific parts of our tradition, introduced to our Gods and spirits as one of us, and basically brought into our tribe by us. The same can be said about Alexandrians and other British Traditional Wicca, though really Alexandrians are just another line of Gardnerians who decided to use more incense and we all know it. Egyptian libraries. Please.

monique wilson

In Wicca, lineage is passed through the initiation and elevation rites. Lineage specifies that one was brought into the Wicca in a ritual in which all of the hallmarks, or core, of our liturgy were present, and that it was performed by someone who was empowered to initiate (not just some random IRAB HPS or a rogue first degree). Accordingly, most Gardnerians in America trace their lineage through Ray Buckland, to his HPS, Monique Wilson, to her HP, Gerald Gardner, and from him to the New Forest coven which brought Gerald into the Wica and gave us what many of us consider to be our core.

Why then, do we run into other witches and pagans online and in person who claim to have lineage going back to Gerald Gardner, but are obviously not Gardnerian or any other kind of traditional Wica? When Silver Ravenwolf supposedly made this claim many years ago, it seemed an honest thing. What non-initiates know of Wiccan lineage is like what they know of filial lineage, or that part of the Bible that’s a bazillion pages of Levi begat Joseph who begat Joshua who begat seventy other people who all eventually lead to Jesus’s step dad, because that was important for some reason: oh yeah, paternal lineage and inheritance rights and validity. Lineage has, for time immemorial, been tied together with the concept of legitimacy. A bastard child was not legitimate and could not inherit, unless his father claimed him and gave him his lineage, despite the political and social fallout. It would seem that errant claims of lineage made in the greater neo-pagan community may still bear the trappings of a need for validity.

Claims by eclectics and members of eclectic traditions (a slightly oxymoronic term, for sure) to have lineage going back to Gerald Gardner show a shallow understanding of lineage. Wiccan lineage isn’t just “Gerald initiated Monique who initiated Ray who initiated me into the Masons, and so therefore I am a mason and also a Gardnerian with lineage going back to Gardner.” It doesn’t work that way. In order for lineage to be passed within Wicca, one needs to do certain things to pass it, and those things are contained in the traditional rites of initiation. Initiation and elevation within Wicca places a spiritual marker on a witch. It flags them as one of us, and as a result, certain deities, spirits, and other beings will take heed when they call, will help them, aid them, protect them, maybe even smite their enemies if approached in some fabulously biblical manner. If an actual, lineage member of the Wica were to toss out the initiation rites, or replace them with something different, then traditional Wiccan lineage is not conferred. Or, if one would like to persist that something is passed, then one must also concede that it is not the same. It is different.

initiation

Gerald Gardner’s initiation rites contain certain things. Let’s call them A, B and Nudity™. When I was initiated, I was given/shown/revealed A, B, and Nudity™, by people who experienced the same from people leading in a chain of individuals putting others through the same rite, in the same way (coughcoughnaked™coughcough). When Ray Buckland initiated the woman next in line from him to me, he did it with the Gardnerian rites, passing Gardnerian lineage.

At some point in time, Ray Buckland decided to branch out, and created Seax Wicca. He created this. He didn’t come across a secret, Saxon coven of witches that had been clandestinely hiding out in the wilds of Long Island in the 1960s. He was a fan of Saxon culture and religion and magic, and he made a workable religio-magical system out of it. He likely wrote initiation rites for it. This is all well and good. But what people don’t understand is that those rites aren’t the rites of entrance into traditional Wicca. When Mr. Buckland was initiated by Monique Wilson, he swore an oath that we all take to basically not reveal information which is bound by that oath. This covers things like the Names of the Wiccan Gods to the identities of other witches, to what is found in our BoS and a bunch of other lore both written and oral. Because he could not pass this on to outsiders, and because anyone being brought into Seax Wicca was still technically an outsider from the traditional oath and practice of Wicca, those new initiation rites did not convey Wiccan lineage going back to Gerald Gardner, because they did not contain the Gardnerian oathbound information and practices. I am not saying that they weren’t equally wonderful and powerful and moving and fulfilling rites or that Seax Wicca is bogus. I am only outlining that it is different, and different is not less-than.

But in recognizing that it is different, one must be willing to admit that because Ray was the creator of that tradition, its lineage started with him. A Gardnerian priest putting a woman through a Co-Masons initiation rite does not make her a Gardnerian any more than a Jewish PhD conferring an engineering PhD on a student makes that student Jewish. The same goes for different traditions of Wicca, as we know them today. A Seax Wicca HP does not pass Gardnerian lineage by initiating someone into Seax Wicca, because even if that person was also a Gardnerian, the initiations are different. You learn different things. You don’t get passed the Gardnerian info or mojo.

Yet, even today, we have people online who claim that their lineage goes back to Gardner through Michael Reagan to Ray Buckland (possibly even through same-sex initiation, which is a big Gardnerian no-no) back up the line to Gardner. Why? Why is it so important to have lineage to the man who brought Wicca out of the broom closet, instead of to someone two links down the chain from him who created another system of witchcraft? Gerald was not the first witch, nor will he be the last, but his name does seem to be one that people cling to, for many reasons.

If your line of initiators goes back a good way, great. If it goes back through multiple varying and different eclectic traditions, wonderful. But the lineage passed to you, if any, would start with your tradition’s founder, not the founder of their previous tradition, or the founder of that person’s previous tradition. Lineage is, after all, a way to identify someone, to have an understanding of who they are and what they do and where they got it from. If you slap that term onto anyone who’s ever high-fived you or walked slowly enough across your lawn, then the term becomes meaningless, and anyone on earth can claim lineage back to anyone if they have only the most flimsy and tangential association with them. The Correllian Nativist tradition does not, from what I understand, convey any actual native American lineage on its members. In the same vein, traditional Wiccan lineage is passed intentionally, and not outside of the realm of itself. If you’re from an eclectic tradition, take pride in it. Don’t attempt to grasp for some unnecessary sense of further legitimacy by reaching out for something that isn’t there.

Or, if you feel that you really need it, then come and get it. It’s still being passed today, around the world, and when a seeker is ready, a teacher can appear.

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)