British Traditional Wicca

Gather Round

One of the best part of being an initiate of Gardnerian witchcraft is, by far, the community. It’s probably the second best aspect of the craft, just behind the connection to our Gods and all that that brings to us. Gardnerians are the primal, fundamental party pagans who know how to throw a rocking good time and also ensure that the vehicle for the Gods is well-oiled, running, and ready to facilitate their worship and service. A coven is only as good as its members, and a tradition is also only as good as its members. That’s why Gardnerian gatherings are such a totally tits thing. We have the best scotch, the best jello shots, the best fire dancing, and the best ecstatic communion with the divine (and with each other).

Gardnerian gatherings are different than pagan festivals that are open to the public because you know that everyone there, everyone at the ritual, has been brought to the doorstep of Mystery and had the opportunity to cross through it. You know that everyone there has the keys imprinted within them, and that the possibility to work Wiccan magic exists within each of them. You also know through virtue of their attendance there that they have the drive to connect to other priests, other witches, in a fundamental way that helps us to better know each other, our gods, and ourselves in the process. Basically, Gardnerian witch camp is the best thing ever, and there’s one coming to the West Coast for Lammas. So if you’re a Gardnerian initiate of any stripe, be sure to check it out. It’s guaranteed to be a rip-roaring good time.

Also, the HPS who runs it is a HOOT. ❤

-A Gardnerian

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Gardnerian Wicca is Good

Sometimes in life, things move us. Sometimes it’s a bolt of inspiration that allows us to narrow in on something that we find to be important. Sometimes it’s the identification of a pattern or meaningful coincidence that we come across. Both of these things are common occurrences when it comes to modern religious witchcraft. Today’s blog was inspired by our dear sister Thorn Mooney’s (pictured above) most recent post to her Oath Bound blog on Patheos.com, “What Good is Gardnerian Wicca.” (Why it’s called Oath Bound, we have no idea, but she knows what’s up and what’s secret, so she has as much right to the term as any one of us, if not more for smooshing it in the public’s face. Go, sister, go.)

We’re about halfway through her most recent post, and about halfway through 6 or 8 whiskeys, and you know what, we think we’ve been forced to think. Brava, Thorn. Brava. The conflict within, between whether to write as the spirit moves us or whether to finish reading so we can make informed commentary tears us asunder.

Ok, we chose to finish reading, because reason.

Something that Thorn and we have in common (and she whoops our ass at it) is that we both have degrees in Religious Studies. We have a BA in it, but this witch has an MA. That means she sunk a lot more time, thought, and money into the pursuit, and we do not envy her student loans. This is a priestess who went for it, because she was called to it, and her writings have left us with spiritual truth bomb after spiritual truth bomb as a result. For this, we are grateful as fuck. (We’re also grateful as fuck for this issue of The Burning Times that her coven sent us. I mean, Lies For Dead Seahorses has needed to be shared for decades, obviously. Hit her up. Beg her to send you a copy. It’s solid gold.)

Her candor in the written medium is flawless. Witness the sentence “I don’t even have words for how boring these conversations were,” in regards to her description of the debates between atheists and protestants in her graduate student courses. Another straight up truth bomb is, “If there’s anything I’ve learned through studying religion, it’s the futility of pretending that it’s a definable thing with neat boundaries that make sense to everyone involved.”

She’s flawless in describing to the rest of us how her (our) Gardnerian Wicca doesn’t tell her how to vote, how to think, how to spend her money or fight injustice. She affirms quite clearly that we don’t have a central hierarchy, and she highlights that many conversations at the masters level of education in regards to religion don’t even apply to her (us). She is a light in the darkness of the Judeo-Christian constructed process of studying religion. Encountering Hinduism and Buddhism caused religious scholars to eventually think outside of their shells, but encountering Wicca has mostly led them to deconstruct Wicca in a Judeo-Christian framework, highlighting the similarities and (mostly) differences.

We don’t wish to presume, by reading her blog posts on Patheos.com, what Wicca has given her. But we do feel confident repeating what she says on its behalf; it “made her feel like she had some impact on her own life. It gave her some sense of agency she hadn’t had before.” It empowered her, and caused her to find a sense of empowerment, making her feel more effective over her own life. That personal power, that is the effect of witchcraft. Witchcraft is empowering, which is why is has been so villified by established western religious authority for centuries.

One of the biggest and best things that Thorn Mooney writes about on her blog at Patheos.com is that Gardnerian Witchcraft has given her a sense of family, and we echo this sentiment strongly. When you are initiated into a coven, you are essentially presented with siblings in the Craft. At first, they are usually the men and women who have also seeked, worked, and successfully pursued initiation under the same High Priest and Priestess as yourself. They become your siblings in a way that defies words, because they are not related to you, but they have the same deep understanding of the Mysteries that you do, presented in the same way by the same people, and because this is one of the most defining experiences of your life, you grok them, and they you, in a way that can only be described as kin.

Fuck the royal we for a minute. I’m a Gardnerian. I’m a member of one of the most reclusive witchcraft traditions and Wiccan traditions in existence, and all I can say about my tradition is that it is family. It is finding my, our way back home. My coven is my family, in addition to my kin who I was born into, who love me unconditionally. The level of love and trust inherent in a truly functional Wiccan coven is bar-none. As Thorn says in her blog, we, collectively as a coven, are bigger than any one person’s practice. It is as much beautiful as it is sublime. We rein each other in as much as we lift each other up and soar with each other through the ethos of life and that which we experience beyond. We become co-creators of our shared realities and recognize the divine within ourselves and each other without the need for yoga mats, yoga pants (or any pants, really), or an excessive amount of blissed-out new agey platitudes.

One of the most spectacular things about the traditional Wicca movement is that we have a shared liturgy. Many pagans might scoff at the idea of liturgy in a witchcraft movement, but when it comes to the study of ritual, it has been found time and time again that the repetition of certain actions, certain affirmations, certain observances and practices, has assisted and, in fact, enhanced the state of mind in regards to those practices. We train ourselves through repetition, and in so doing, we form the launch pad for the witchcraft and the religious experiences of ecstasy, communion, and enlightenment that we strive for. When the very basic circle structure and casting, the calling of the quarters, the invocation of the Gods, and the forming of the traditional Wiccan circle become something we can do with our eyes closed, we prepare our minds for true transcendence, because at that point, our rites are primed to transcend our normal senses and ways of thinking. The traditional Wiccan practice does not restrict: it sets the stage for a show that is ineffable, an experience that is transcendent, and a practice that unites us with our gods in a way that words fail to describe.

I, err…. We are grateful to Thorn for sharing so much of her experience with us, and we look forward to reading so very much more from her in the future. And to Jason Mankey, who writes his own blog, Raise the Horns, (and possibly edits Thorn’s?), we offer our thanks, not just for years of beautiful community ritual, but for bringing to us yet another modern voice that reflects the truly visceral experience of Gardnerian witchcraft. We treasure it, and just because she’s not *really* on Facebook doesn’t mean we value it any less. *CoughCoughHintHintAFanPageIsCrapGetARealOneAlreadyCoughCough*

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.

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)

Flagellation

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.

Shocker: There Is No Universal Threefold Law in Wicca

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.

Blessed Be,

A Gardnerian

The Book of Shadows

The Book of Shadows is the collection of the rites of the Wica, as they were learned, fleshed out and passed by Gerald Gardner in the mid 20th century.  There is a very common misconception today within the eclectic witchcraft community which claims that any witch can write a personal grimoire (a collection of spells, workings, magickal information, meditations, etc…) and that this book becomes his or her Book of Shadows. This is untrue.  Such a book would be relevant only to that witch and his/her experience and would have little or no bearing on another witch.  The Book of Shadows is used by the entirety of the Wica, from Gardnerians to Alexandrians to other traditions within the modern religion of Wicca which continue to pass the rites which Gerald Gardner made available.

We actually like the Wikipedia article about the Book of Shadows and recommend that each witch give it a quick read. While we have read most of Stewart and Janet Farrar’s writings, own a copy of Lady Sheba’s work, and have read Charles Cardell’s writings, we have yet to come across an actual, complete copy of the Book being made available to the public. While there are certainly plenty of little parts of the original which have been published, these writings, devoid of the oral lore which traditionally accompanies them, would leave a witch rather confused and unable to work the rites in a very effective manner.  It’s rather difficult to hold a proper rite for the Goddess of the Wica if one does not know Her Name, or how to do it, outside of some verbiage and loose, context-less stage directions.

Without getting into how Gardner developed the Book of Shadows, attention should be drawn to the purpose which it serves in modern day Wicca. The Book of Shadows is both an object of focus & learning and a tool which facilitates the actual learning process itself. There are many different mechanisms and formalities which have evolved around it and its transmission from initiator to initiate. We have heard a plenitude of accounts from others of the Wica about the wonderful time spent at the covenstead (the location in which the coven meets, frequently the home of the High Priest/ess or other member of the coven) physically copying the Book of Shadows in their own handwriting while asking questions of their high priest/ess.  In this situation, the book itself serves as the source of primary information, as well as a focal point around which learning is facilitated. We have found that much, if not most, oral lore is passed this way, in the presence of the BoS or during its copying. Some treat this process as sacred in itself, a sort of passing of the tutelary tradition within Wicca, with which we agree.

There are, however less common, plenty of covens in which physical copies/xeroxes of parts of the book are passed from initiator to initiate, for the initiate to hand copy on their own. This is a system which is usually found in situations where the coveners live at some distance from each other, which makes the ability to meet more challenging and likely less frequent.  In almost all cases, if not all, the initiate would still be asking questions as copying progresses, though frequently via telephone or online communication with his/her initiators.  Regardless of the manner in which the Book of Shadows is passed, it serves the same functions for most witches who possess it; it passes the tradition (rites and accompanying information) of Wicca and it serves as a point of learning and understanding of what is being passed from initiator to initiate.

If one were to espouse only a shallow view of the Book of Shadows, one may fall prey to the simplistic idea that any religion attached to a written text becomes old, archaic and frequently outdated. The Christian Bible espouses such awful and archaic practices such as slavery, selling one’s children into said slavery, and a host of other offences to the decency of modern man (stoning is such a lovely thing, regardless of which millennium in which it’s implemented, no?). But the Bible is also something that is interpreted differently by different sects of Christianity. The Westboro Baptist  ‘God Hates Fags’ motto is a far cry from the inclusive, loving and Christ-like attitude of the Anglican communion.  Similarly, diversity exists within traditional Wicca, with different traditions and even different covens in the same traditions placing more or less emphasis on certain aspects of traditional praxis found within the Book of Shadows. One of the old Wiccan adages is that one should not remove from the tradition, though one is certainly free to add to it (within the spirit of the Craft). In this manner, the tradition, or the core of the practice of Wicca is preserved and transmitted to each new generation of witches within our cult while the freedom to improvise, experiment and infuse new life into the Craft is assured and celebrated.

How does your tradition of Wicca view the Book of Shadows? Feel free to comment below.

(+5 points to anyone who recognizes the image!)

Ecstasy

Ecstasy is an amazing study. And we studied the ever-loving $#!+ out of it in high school and in college, let us tell you. But we’re not talking about MDMA here. This entry will be devoted to religious ecstasy, the type of which changes one as a person, as a soul, and causes a paradigm shift incapable of being put into words. It is very firmly one (or all) of the Mysteries referred to within the modern Western Mystery Tradition and it is certainly not limited to something as new and early in its evolution as Wicca.  Religious ecstasy is as old as religion itself, older than the written word, and so a true study of it will take one back to the formation of the earliest alphabets and records of human religion.

Let’s define the word ecstasy, shall we? Google, the arbiter of all things modern, gives two definitions, one simple, and one more in-depth. The simple one says “an overwhelming feeling of great happiness or joyful excitement.”  True. Put plain and simple, it’s the kind of happiness that overwhelms you.  We tend to understand it more as the second definition provided: “an emotional or religious frenzy or trancelike state, originally one involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence.” This is where we get at the concept of religious ecstasy. It takes one outside of oneself, outside of one’s normal perception, bestowing upon the one experiencing it a sense of a greater meaning or understanding, however fleeting the experience may be.

Being of European descent, we shall describe in the third person our first experiences with the very concept of religious ecstasy as coming from Christianity. Since we are Wiccan and therefore love all things involving the Renaissance Faire, we quickly turn toward medieval Christian mysticism to grasp concepts of religious ecstasy from a time when the new religion from the east was transforming itself after syncretizing with the old beliefs of the west. So let us wax philosophical on a not-so-brief detour through medieval Christianity to highlight a few examples of certain mystics’ descriptions of their own ecstatic experiences, shall we?

Bernard of Clairvaux was a 12th century French abbot, Cistercian monk and Doctor of the Church. Many modern neo-pagan jokes about him could be made regarding absinthe, cis-gendered Cistercians (what a cissy!) and a few other things upon reading his Wikipedia page, but let’s cut to the chase. He viewed the relationship between the divine Word (Jesus/God) and the individual soul as a spiritual marriage between the heavenly Bridegroom (Jesus/God) and the human bride. That’s right, in 12th century French Christianity, this man made sure that everyone, regardless of gender, had the right to be a spiritual bridezilla (TLC reality show to follow). The fun part is that it was a good thing which emphasized a sacramental humaneness, with love as its focus, which shaped Christian piety, spirituality and mysticism from his day until ours. This emphasis on love as a central theme of the unity with the divine that causes a sense of spiritual ecstasy is a theme that repeats itself almost indefinitely within Christendom, the prevailing European model of religion for millenia.

Mechtild of Magdeburg, a 13th century Beguine (a sort of prototype for nuns) and Christian mystic left us with writings full of the courtly love of her time.  She depicted love as Christ, positioning it as the end-all-be-all with a revulsion of the body so that the mind and soul could fly to meet God. She had out of body experiences leading to religious ecstasy and union with the divine. She depicted a melding of love and suffering as a mechanism for union with Jesus and melting into God.

Richard Rolle, a 14th century mystic, was heralded as one of the great English mystics of the Middle Ages. He wrote a work called The Fire of Love, in which he describes his divine encounters by dividing the nature of the experience into three unique stages. The first, he described as the sensation of spiritual fire, a glowing presence accompanied by the feeling of physical warmth in his chest.  The second was marked by an overwhelming sense of peace and joy, a taste of sweetness in his soul.   Finally, Rolle explains how in the third stage, the glorious song of angels resounds, signifying his union with God’s divine love.

The theme runs rampant through western mystical experience: God is Love. The mystical experience of union with God, the religious ecstasy that has been the hallmark of Saints and ascetics for time imemorial is time and again being conflated with and described as love, from almost every angle and in every way. Love is sublime.  Love is divine. So what does the experience of mystical union with the divine, of religious ecstasy within Wicca, have to do with love, if anything?  What is the role of love within modern day Wicca?

Take a look at any random version of the Charge of the Goddess, a fundamental piece of publicly available popular Wiccan literature heavily adapted from Lelands Aradia: Gospel of the Witches and Aleister Crowley’s writings.

And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in Her praise.
Wicca teaches that love is something that praises the Goddess of the witches, and that doing so is a sign of freedom. Religious ecstasy has almost always been described as a liberating experience, one which lifts the mystic up and out of his/her human experience, elevating him/her to the level of the Divine so that some part of it may be shared through the experience. it is the ultimate experience of freedom from this mortal coil, the result of which is an embodiment of Godhead, unity with the divine.

For Hers is the ecstasy of the spirit, and Hers also is joy on earth; for Her law is love unto all beings.
The cult teaches quite clearly that the ‘ecstasy of the spirit’ belongs to a Goddess who’s ‘law is love unto all beings.’  In love, the state and the act, we can and should find our connection with the Lady of the Moon, who is the Queen of all witcheries. In love, we should seek awareness of Her and of our connection to Her.

Nor does She demand sacrifice, for behold, She is the mother of all living, and Her love is poured out upon the earth.
This simple statement rejects the heretofore held necessity within the prevailing Christian paradigm for suffering as a requirement for unity with the Divine. It replaces this concept with the veneration of the Mother, and specifically a mother’s love, which is posited as being freely given and available to all upon the Earth. But where to find it? Where to even begin to look?

Before Her face, beloved of gods and men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite. Let Her worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals.
The Charge continues to assert the common understanding that to behold the face of the Divine is to be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite, a fittingly Wiccan description for religious ecstasy. The blatant accessibility of this Goddess is made manifest in the declaration that not just the inner-court and oathbound rites of the brotherhood of the Wiccae constitue all of Her rituals, but *all* acts of love and pleasure provide access to Her and to Her Mysteries. When we seek for the Goddess we should look to find her, in accord with her own Charge, not outside of our own individual experience, in unreachable temples and covens that venerate her in secret, but within ourselves and our own experiences of love. When we recognize that She exists within us and within the very feeling and state of love, then do we find true liberation and union with the divine.

And thou who thinkest to seek Her, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, She has been with thee from the beginning; and She is that which is attained at the end of desire.

 

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D is for Divinity

So apparently the pagan Blog Project is up to the letter F, which means we should probably get to the letter D.  The first D word that came to mind would have made a smashing article because let’s be honest about it, it’s absolutely not oathbound and is freely available. But because we can already name several Americans who would shit a British Traditional Brick™ and throw it at us, we’ve opted to err on the side of caution. But let it be known that we do not appreciate our own desire not to ruffle feathers. It’s not in our normal nature.

So today, D stands for Divinity. D could also stand for duotheism, since our venerable Wiccan Jesus (who is quite obviously alive and tweeting from a cottage in France: you should follow him) wrote that our Gods are the little Gods of our cult, or our tribe.  He posits a rather henotheistic understanding that there are many Gods, but these two are the Gods of our people, who we venerate.

Divinity within Gardnerian Witchcraft is a very personal thing. We work with a God and a Goddess, but how we experience these Beings is unique to each witch.  How we internalize our experience of these Beings is also unique to each witch. One may understand Them to be duotheistic deities, one may understand Them to be henotheistic deities and one may see Them to be Jungian archetypes in the collective unconscious of humanity after reading Vivianne Crowley’s wonderful book entitled “Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millenium.” This is perhaps the chief reason why Gardnerians agree that Wicca is orthopraxic, meaning we all practice the same, but not orthodoxic, meaning we do not all believe the same.  We don’t care if you’re any of the aforementioned terms, as long as you’re casting a circle, calling the appropriate beings in the appropriate directions, and maintaining a 2 drink minimum before ritual.  That is how the Wicca do it 😉

Divinity  within Wicca is seen as embodied within two Gods known as the Horned God of Death and Resurrection and the Goddess of the Moon.  Gardner was very open-minded in that he drew many parallels between the Gods of the Wicca and other ancient British Gods.  For instance, in The Meaning of Witchcraft, he writes, “Herne the Hunter, with his helmet crowned with stag’s antlers, his band of wild followers, his association with “fairies” [blogger note: Gardnerians associate with lots of faeries, let us tell you]… is the British example par excellence of a surviving tradition of the Old God of the witches.”  He writes further about our Horned Lord, “The dual nature of the Old God will be noticed.  He is the giver of fertility, both of the ground and of humans and animals; but he is also the Lord of the Gates of Death.” Our God has a specific name within traditional Wicca, which is bound by oath to never be spoken before those not initiated into His mysteries.

Our Goddess is commonly referred to as the Lady of the Moon.  Gardner writes that She is “the Mother of Fertility in all its forms, whether it be the fertility of the earth, of cattle and human beings, or the material prosperity of some venture, or those more subtle forms of fertility which germinate in the mind and bring forth poetry and the arts.”  Our Goddess has a specific name within traditional Wicca, which is bound by oath to never be spoken before those not initiated into Her mysteries.

The important thing to realize about divinity within traditional Wicca is that it is also seen as immanent within the world and within humanity, so that each witch, silently echoing the Indian greeting of ‘namaste,’ is able to recognize the divinity inherent within ourselves and each other.  In witchcraft, life truly is divine.

Wiccanate Privilege, Wiccanate Privilege, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways…

  1. You are such a completely retarded term that you’re downright offensive.  And if the word retarded was the first in this blog to offend you, you need to go back to the Church you came from, because you’re not paying enough attention. The term Wiccanate being applied to anything not already labeling itself Wicca is like someone telling you that you’re not Lutheran, you’re Catholic-ish. Thus, we love it.
  2. You have continued the fun three-or-four-year theme of creating some trumped up concept of scandal involving Pantheacon, which gets Pantheacon some wonderful free press.  Since Pantheacon is the LARGEST OPEN BAR PAGAN EVENT IN THE WORLD, any press is good press for it. You should come. We can hang out in the New Wiccan Church suite until we’re so sloppy that Sara politely boots us in the direction of the Green Fairy suite which inevitably ends up with everyone back in the LGBT suite because those iron-livered homos just can’t stop, and they won’t stop. Cause it’s we who own the night. Can’t you see it’s we who ‘bout that life?
  3. Vinnie motherfuckin’ Russo wrote a blog about it.  Vinnie is the man. If he pipes up about something long enough to write about it, that means he’s not cooking. And if you can pull the Streghe of New England (move over Lori) away from his stove for that long, you’re a legit movement. Props for that.
  4. You are kind of an oxymoron in a strange way we can’t quite put into one solid term. Wiccanate Privilege™ is about how pagans, playgans (there’s a Pantheacon term for you) and everyone in between who refuses to be labeled in some endless quest to buck all attempts at classification don’t feel included. Wiccanate Privelege is about inclusion, and that is hilarious. Why? Because WICCA IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. Wicca is not inclusive. We don’t want everyone in our cult. We don’t want everyone in our circles. We drive people crazy. We break the mentally weak and unhinged. We are a magnet for the psychologically ill because they need a magical excuse for their insanity. We walk a thin line between reality and subjectivity and blur that line frequently, and with gusto.  That shit is not healthy for lots and lots of people. So the idea that you toss ‘-ate’ on the end of our religion to talk about inclusivity is hilarious. But, is being of the Wica a privilege? Absolutely.
  5. Being allowed in the door to someone else’s ritual means that you are being included. Assuming that you should be paid any attention beyond that just means that you’re an asshole. We do love most things that prove that watered down Wicca is shitty. Take of your clothes practice like the rest of us, or gtfo. Kthxbai.

What’s your take on Wiccanate Privilege?  And if you can direct us to a Wiccanate, we’d love to actually meet one that identifies that way.  We bet they need a drink.

(For a non-douchebag response to the Wiccanate privilege debate, please read our brother Benny’s blog. That’s a true Gardnerian sentiment right there.)