traditional witchcraft

My Patrón Is Tequila

Patronus

In modern-day eclectic Wicca, we come across the terms patron deity and matron deity quite a bit. This is similar to the Catholic concept of the patron saint, spirits who are the protecting or guiding saint of a person or a place, and frequently of a group of people, or a function. For example, St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items, and St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, such as people who think you can be Wiccan but not a witch.

A great example of a crossover between a patron Saint and a pagan God is the Irish St. Brighid of Kildare. Brighid is the most popular Irish saint next to St. Patrick. Her symbols are holy wells and sacred flames, and she is petitioned for healing, inspiration, and anything really, especially by tying ribbons onto a tree next to her wells. She is a syncretization of an ancient Irish goddess who appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha De Danann, daughter of the Dagda. The Dagda is so badass that he gets a ‘the’ in front of his name, because he held the Undry, a cauldron or cup that never went empty, and had an endless herd of pigs, so he’s legitimately the Irish god of bacon and thus worthy of everyone’s adoration. His daughter Brighid is a triple deity of healing, inspiration and smithcraft, and her worship continues in both Christian and pagan form to this day. I am 100% a traditional Gardnerian, and I work with Brighid about as much as I work with the traditional Wiccan gods, because she is that badass.

But what do patron/matron gods have to do with Wicca? Well, that depends on how you define godhead. You see if a patron saint is a saint of a certain group, and a patron god is the God of a certain group, then the Wica, as a group, can obviously have patron deities. But is there a patron god of witches? Yes, there are tons of them in ancient paganism.

Hekate, Aradia, Diana, Nicneven, the Queen of Elphame, Herne, Cernnunos, Uindos, Cerridwen, Circe, and a host of others are all deities traditionally associated with witchcraft. There are two more that we can add to this list, and they are the God and Goddess of the Wica, whose names are bound by oath not to be repeated to the uninitiated. Across varying lines of traditional Wicca (e.g. Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Central Valley Wicca, and half a dozen more that will never make sense to us) their names have slight variations in spelling and pronunciation, but they are the same two gods with the same lore. Some lines teach that each of them has more than one name, like layers of an onion, each getting closer to the core. But each of these names is seen in a monist fashion to be the same deity, which begs the question of how far one’s personal monist ideals stretch, covering all gods, or only the gods of your own group or tribe in a henotheistic fashion.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are a witch who is not initiated into traditional Wicca, and Diana is your patron (matron sounds silly) goddess because you either work with her the most and have developed the closest relationship with her and you have decided that she is looking over you or guiding you. Or perhaps she has made herself known to you and the call is real, guiding you forward. Perhaps you just know it, from a feeling or a dream or an interaction. So you work with her and she works with you and the relationship grows to the point where she is supreme in your own spiritual work, and thus you identify her as your personal patron deity. Then one day, in the course of your life, you are brought into contact with a traditional Wiccan coven, and you want in. You like them, they like you, having noticed your devotion to your goddess, and after a year and a day, you are initiated.

Upon initiation, you are taught the secret name of the Goddess. Let’s say, for hypothetical example, her name is Hekate. What if you thought that the Goddess of the witches was Diana, and now you find out that within traditional Wicca, it’s Hekate? Does that make Diana no longer your patron? Does that mean you have to switch patron gods too just to try to match things up properly? How much logical sense does your witchcraft cosmology have to make in order for it to feel right for you? (The correct answer is none.) Can you have two patron goddesses? A personal one, and a group one? How many gods is too many gods and at what point will it start getting confusing? What if your patron was Artemis and then you found out that the traditional Wiccan goddess was Hera, who tried unsuccessfully to have Artemis and her twin Apollo killed in the womb out of jealousy and propriety? Do you freak out and run screaming away? How do you rectify opposing mythological roles? Maybe your world just collapses for a bit because the traditionalists told you something you build part of your ego on is false and you fall into darkness, but eventually another voice calls you out of your depression. (All hail the goddess Celexa!)

Many traditional Wiccan covens also work with gods of place. Diana and Apollo could be the gods of the Wica, whose names are taught at initiation and about whom the entire Wiccan cosmology and ritual cycle teaches, but your coven resides in Germany, and so you work with Frau Holde instead…or something. Which goddess is your matron? Does each have a claim on you? One is personally in touch with you, the other has been introduced as She whom your worship revolves around, except now you’re directing said worship at the goddess who reigns over your town or city, because why not?

The answer to all of these questions is obviously yes. Yes to everything. Work with 3 patron deities. Freak out about working with three patron deities. Wrack your brain about how to reconcile 3 voices, 3 beings, maybe even 6 beings. Create a personal cosmology which allows you to function fully as a witch, as a Wiccan, and as a spiritual human being. If you ring the phone and someone at the other end picks up the line, you should speak to them. Why not in witchcraft, especially if they already know who’s calling?

Human beings lay claim to an endless host of spirits. (Especially the Vodouisants. I have no idea how they keep up with all that, personally, but God bless them and all those colors for it.) Wiccans are human beings. Some are monogamous in life and may be similarly disposed in religion to one set of gods. Some are polyamorous, and while that’s wildly and hilariously confusing for the rest of us and makes for truly awful and awesome reality shows, it might be better for many people than the alternative both physically and spiritually. And some people are just boring *coughcoughatheistscoughcough.* What is important isn’t what you title each god with which you work. What’s important is the strength and clarity of each of those connections, and the mutually beneficial effects that such connections bring to our spiritual and mundane lives. As we’ve mentioned before, witchcraft is more than just doing spells for stuff; it’s also communing with spirits/gods. So if you want to have one patron or ten, go for it, and don’t let anyone stop you. Just know who’s who when you call.

Slainte,

Gardnerian A

P.S. I’m really a José Cuervo Reserva de la Familia fan, but that didn’t work as well for the title.

 

 

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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.)