btw

Pantheacon

P is for Pantheacon. And Puking.

It’s that time of year again. Mid February is a magical mini-season where people everywhere in America use the barbaric murder of a Catholic saint as an excuse to buy red crap and spend money on food. It’s also that time when Pantheacon happens and then every pagan with a keyboard (which is every pagan) starts bragging blogging about how they went to P-Con and how awesome it was. And it is. We’re getting the jump on all of them because there’s one night left and our liver is currently hiding under the blanket in bed at 6PM.

Pantheacon is an ancient word that translates roughly into English from its original Greek as “open bar.” Everywhere you go here, people are tying one on, and the majority of the hospitality suites on the 9th floor are basically an excuse to flout liquor laws and prove how bad ass your group/tradition/friends are. Having it occur during Valentine’s day this year puts it roughly on par with St. Patrick’s day, because holy mother of Gods, we are hungover.

Pantheacon is also a liminal place like a Mexican border town. There’s seemingly limitless alcohol everywhere, every conversation sounds like another language, and people are constantly disappearing. Missing phone calls while one is out at a bar is normal, but when we wake up in this DoubeTree every morning after never leaving it, we see roughly 23 unread text messages and 17 missed calls, all of which involve the most Pantheacon-esque saying: “Where are you?”

This conference is also rife with the Northern California spirit of faction fighting and social justice warrioring. People here are offended by everything, and it even has it’s own Godwin’s law. Godwin’s Law usually proves that the longer an online debate occurs, the higher the likelihood that someone will mention Nazis or Hitler, except that here, all conversations turn to privilege. The first night we arrived, Pantheacon magic happened and we suddenly found ourselves sitting at a table in a casino across the street (because paganism) populated entirely by white people who were discussing race. It was harrowing and absurd and there weren’t enough Jameson and ginger ales in the world to erase those rough 25 minutes, but at least the food was good. Now, most of America is used to being all white and shit, but we’re from L.A, so the second we realize there is no one around of any noticeable Mexican descent, it starts to feel like the Village of the Damned and we get seriously unnerved.

Pantheacon is also a brilliant adult playground. This hotel turns into the Las Vegas of paganism, and nothing that happens in Vegas is usually healthy. Just like in Vegas, extremes come together and interact in stunning and hilarious ways. We were sitting at the Green Fairy party on whatever blurry night that was, which is basically just a giant drinking game featuring absinthe, and watched a man walk up to woman after woman and completely and surprisingly violate their space by brushing his hand down their backs while simultaneously standing next to guys sporting “Ask first” ribbons promoting consent within hug-culture. We sat at Chipotle this morning trying to eat our hangover feelings while listening to one of our straight best friends describe in hilarious detail how she was the object of affection from a relentlessly persistent lesbian the night before, and literally mid-sentence, a totally random stranger sitting at the table next to us leaned over and said, “I’m surprised you’re even upright after all of the whiskey I saw you imbibe at that party last night. I’m impressed.” Pantheacon is magic, and booze fuels it all.

Another notable occurrence occurred when the east coast met the left coast and we saw Thorn Mooney sitting on the floor making a Youtube video with her phone. While we already knew that we would be immediate besties, what was not as obvious at first was how exponentially hilarious she gets when you add whiskey to whatever she’s drinking. She literally took us by the hand and lead us over to an artist drawing caricatures and had him paint us as the cover of Silver Ravenwolf’s Teen Witch. We died. Dead. We couldn’t even keep a straight face in the damned drawing because we were trying not to pee our pants. Photographic proof of Thorn Mooney’s LEGIT Wiccan street cred featured below.

teen witch

Also, this needs to be said to everyone who can read: Thorn Mooney walked me into a wall last night and I had no idea until everyone was laughing about it this morning. SHE WALKED ME INTO A WALL. Fine, I may have accidentally flung her drink across the room and onto another wall, but that is no excuse for the blonde leading the drunker blond through the second degree mysteries of her aforementioned violated alcohol. Touche, woman. Touche.

Pantheacon truly has something for everyone. Apparently there are official classes and workshops all day, but we don’t think we’ve attended one in years. People love them though. Shit is so obscure here that a friend of mine was denied entry into a class about Baba Yaga due to maximum capacity being reached. Who knew? The only thing this convention is missing is a medical suite called the Hydration Station offering IVs in the morning. Whoever pulls that off will make a killing.

One night left, and our hangover is beginning to fade. Pray for us. Pray for us all.

BB,

-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*

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!)