initiation

It’s Transformative

I was initiated into the Gardnerian Third Degree last night* and since then I’ve had trouble sleeping.  In a lot of ways my restlessness reminds me of Christmas Eve when I was a child.  Back then I’d lay in bed for hours, fitfully turning and tossing, trying so damned hard to go to sleep . . . . . and while I’m sure I slept a little bit, I mostly failed.  I was so excited back then to get to the presents and and the familyness of it all that I worked myself up far past the realms of sleep.

My mind is wondering why I didn’t feel that way before the elevation.  That should have been the excitement; a new ritual, a new title, a new closeness with the gods, but I slept just fine the night before.  Not sleeping post-ritual could have been due to adrenaline (ritual gets me fired up), but I think it’s something more than that.

Take me away o Horned One!

Take me away o Horned One!

When people ask me why I’m a Gardnerian there are many answers that come to mind, but the one I use the most is “that it works.”  In our circles power is raised, worlds are transformed, and we get to touch that divine something out there, that feeling most mortals only dream and wonder about.  So yes, what we do in our rites works, but in the case of elevations and initiations there’s another force at play.

About a month after being initiated I was out walking with my wife and magical partner when she stopped for a second and turned to look at me.  “Does everything look different to you now?” she said, her eyes wide and her tone serious.  I probably gave her a quizzical glance, but then she continued.  “I mean after initiation, it’s like looking at the world in color for the first time after living a lifetime in black and white.”

I nodded and agreed, everything had changed.  The world did look different, and it felt differently too.  For the first time I could really “see” the forces that move the world operating around me.  It sounds so hokey sometimes and it’s hard to put the differences into words, but I remember looking at a tree after my wife stopped me that evening.  It was a tree I had probably passed at least a hundred times before, but this time it wasn’t just a tree.  It was this living thing radiating power, energy, and its place in the world.

Many years were spent as a first degree Witch, and many of those years I felt like a failure.  I knew I had just unlocked something within and without but I had a hard time putting it into practice.  In eclectic Pagan circles I was confident and sure-footed during ritual, as a first degree I felt like a bumbling idiot.  There were practices my wife quickly adjusted to while I stood in the circle with two left-feet.  It was humbling and a little bit humiliating (at least internally), but my HPS and HP never made me feel that way.

Elevation to second degree didn’t unlock immediate mysteries, but it too changed everything.  Over the next few months “my Gard” began to truly click.  Perhaps just being thought worthy of elevation removed some of the self-doubt, but I think my new sense self confidence came from the ritual its self.  Doors were unlocked and new rooms were revealed.  I suddenly felt “not stupid” when discussing the Craft, and I could feel this new power building inside of me.

It’s too early to tell exactly what last night’s/this morning’s elevation will bring, but I know I already feel changed.  I experienced and felt things in circle that I had never felt or experienced before.  I could feel the power of the gods in our rite and could feel them moving through my HP and HPS and now my “other” HPS.  But it also feels like I’m at the start of a journey, but a journey I feel well prepared for.

I wrote at the beginning “that it works” when it comes to Gardnerian Craft, but there’s another thing I’ve been alluding to:  it’s transformative.**  I’ve been a part of things that work before, but I’ve never been a part of something that truly changed who am I and how I see the world until becoming a Gardnerian.  I feel as if I’ve met deity long before beginning the Gardnerian Path, and certainly adopting the moniker of “Pagan” was a life change, but those things felt more like acknowledgements of things I already knew to be true.  The “Pagan Path” appealed to me because deep down I had always believed that way.  It was an acknowledgement of who I was, not a sudden revelation.

My initiations and elevations changed me; they altered how I look at and interact with the world.  My soul often stirs, but rarely does it move.  “Because it works” is a fine and easy answer and doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but it’s transformative better reflects my reality in the Craft.  I rarely give that answer though because it takes too long to explain, and to be honest, some people don’t deserve that much detail anyway.

To my initiators and those who have walked this journey with my partner and I, you have our undying thanks and love.  To those of you in our extended family, you’ve helped out in ways you don’t even realize.  To my partner, love does not begin to express the bond between us.

~Gardnerian V~

*Technically it was this morning, but who is keeping score?  Oh yeah, we are.

**Or as one of my colleagues and family members here might right “it’s fucking transformative!”

Advertisements
opinions

Two Gardnerians, Twenty-one Opinions

Behold, dear blog reader, one of the deepest and darkest secrets of the religion of Wicca: two Gardnerians disagreeing with each other! Spooky! Scandalous! Never before seen on the interne… oh wait.

Gardnerian B wrote, “The moment we begin a relationship with deity and magic inside a ritual circle we are acting as Priestesses and Priests.”

(Gardnerian A will respond not in quotes.)

When a wizened old court magician in the middle ages in Europe drew a magic circle on the ground and a triangle outside of it, and then began to invoke the names of God in order to compel a spirit to appear within that triangle, he fit the actions described above, but he was (frequently) not a priest. A rabbi could do the same thing, and unless he was born a Kohan, he also was not a priest. Interacting with a God does not make one a priest, otherwise every female Catholic saint would have been running an abbey somewhere that was probably Ireland. While I recognize and understand the desire to validate other people’s feelings, I do not understand the need to dilute who and what we are in order to do so.

If a God wants to make someone their priest, that’s great. The God can initiate them into their knowledge and mysteries in an infinite number of ways. But our Gods do not make one a Wiccan by Themselves. A Wiccan makes a Wiccan. It’s a priesthood created and promulgated by human beings who are witches. Who initiated the first Wiccan? I don’t care. Wicca traces to the New Forest, through either Gerald Gardner, or, when we’re feeling magnanimous, Sybil Leek. If the argument that the gods initiate people into our cult is made, the argument that they do so through their priesthood is also made. It happens through us. If we were to come across a devotee of the Horned God, Lord of Death and Resurrection, we would probably snatch them up, because they’d make a great Wiccan. If they didn’t feel the need for that, we’d invite ourselves to their circles and get to know them better and, through them and their devotions, possibly our own God more, which would be great. It would not, however, make that person a member of the Wica. They’d be like a spiritual cousin, but not a brother or sister of the Art as we know it to be.

An initiation in the Gardnerian tradition, or in traditional Wicca as a whole, means jack shit when it comes to other people’s witchcraft traditions or religions, but it does have meaning when it comes to Wicca. I would never expect a Feri initiate (which has only one degree) to give any extra shit about me or what I do more than any other pagan, just because I have 3 degrees in another form of witchcraft. This isn’t Hogwarts. Wiccan degrees are not accredited. They don’t transfer from one form of witchcraft to another. Within the initiated priesthood of the Wicca, if an Alexandrian and Gardnerian pair of third degrees honor each other as such, that makes sense, because they’re both traditional Wiccan HPs. Once you leave the arena of traditional Wicca, anything goes and things are not directly translatable.

Orange-flavored candy might smell vaguely like an orange, and have perhaps a hint of its (artificial) flavor, but there’s no actual orange in there. It’s like the difference between people who insist on using actual plant products and essential oils in their condition oils and people who buy artificially scented oils and claim they’re the same thing. They’re not. The only way to find out why is to try them both. You notice a difference. The spirit of the plant is present in the one that contains the actual botanicals. In synthetics, it’s just your energy alone. I prefer the real deal, otherwise one could call orange Gatorade “Orange Juice” and people will mistakenly think that they’re the same thing. They’re not. Ostensibly so. Arguing to a carton of orange juice that orange gatorade is also orange juice is just… I mean, it sounds delicious, but it’s not true. The same goes with traditional Wicca and Wiccan-based, eclectic witchcraft.

This other idea that language changes over time based on how the populace uses it is completely true. That doesn’t make it right. Words and their meanings can be completely diluted, or changed into their opposites, as Merriam Webster has delightfully done by changing the meaning of the word “literal” to “figurative” because so many pumpkin-spice drinking white girls just “literally cannot even.” Using Wicca in a way that includes anyone who casts a circle, or even those who don’t, but generally identify with what they think our philosophy is, dilutes the name, and names have power. Plus, there’s always the possibility that the tide can turn back in the other direction, and then the word Wiccan will mean the same here in the US as it does in the UK where it was born. Let’s not disempower ourselves by giving up, even if there’s a cacophony of well-meaning, but uninformed voices out there using it incorrectly. Disagreeing with something is not judgement. It is simple disagreement based on, hopefully, knowledge.

Also, to pretend one can be Wiccan but not “of the Wica” is like the idea that one can be Wiccan and not practice witchcraft. Can someone be a Christian but not “of the followers of Christ?” No. That’s silly. But here we are, doing silly things just to ensure that we’re not hurting the egos built by the uneducated masses. Why not just educate them? Why not just say, in plain English, what we said: Belief does not equal initiation. It’s good for people to hear. It makes them think. Well, it makes some of them think. Sometimes it feels like it makes most of them dig in their heels and start crying about how we’re bullies who won’t accept them, when they’re the ones co-opting the name of our priesthood, and then running around spouting inane things about it like it doesn’t taint us. I forget what it’s called when white people go to Coachella and wear traditional native feather headdresses, or when someone sets up shop in the French quarter and declares themselves a Vodou mambo, without any training, or when Rachel Dolezal did pretty much anything, but the feeling is similar. People outside of the priesthood, for various reasons, and most of them not ill-intentioned, looked at our culture, took what they like, and adopted it as their own without any of the experiences that go with them. I mean, people run around wearing the third degree sigil as jewelry, for fun, because it’s cute, and they started their own eclectic coven, so they feel entitled to it. What do you call that? Did Carl Weshke have the right to take the name of our priesthood and put “the words Wicca and Wiccan in the hands of anyone who wished to claim them”? I say you nay, sir. He was not one of us. He did not have that right. But this is AMURICUH, and Americans can ostensibly do whatever they want.

Gardnerian B: “If someone has eighteen books on their shelf with the word “Wicca” on them and they self-identify that way who am I to stop them? What purpose does that serve? Words get away from us and it’s hard to police their meanings after they do so.”

Let’s play hypotheticals. If someone has 18 books on the shelf with the word “Lukumi” or “Vodou” or “Catholic Priesthood” or even “African American” and they self-identify that way, even though they’re not initiated into the former three and clearly are not of the latter, who are you to stop them? I would think that any logical human being would disagree with them. No one is stopping anyone from doing anything, especially in America, but we don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator among us, especially if it’s quite obviously uninformed.

Educate people. That’s the purpose it serves: education. Words get away from us, yes, and policing their meanings is up to the likes of Merriam Webster and the Oxford English dictionary, but those meanings are formed and reformed based on us, the people, and if we give up on who and what we are, we become meaningless. I refuse to contribute to our priesthood being watered down and made meaningless. It means too much to me, and if that is a crime, then lock my ass up. Me and Kim Davis can have a lively debate while we’re in the clink together 😉

*BB*

Gardnerian, A

County

 

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.