Category Archives: Witchcraft

The Trouble with Dichotomy

Either–or Thinking

Someone is saying it—whaddya mean, dichotomy? Dichotomy

So let’s start with an image: Two circles, one black labelled A, one white labelled B. They are identical in size and shape, completely separate in position, and have no shared content. This is a pictorial representation of a dichotomy. Oxford Dictionary defines dichotomy as “a division…between two things that are…entirely different.

So why does a witch care? Simple. The absolutism of either–or thinking, a concept that goes back at least 2500 years in religion to Zoroastrianism and affects all modern religions “of the book” also permeates occult writing of the past two centuries. For example, Theosophy, a religion (or “esoteric religious tradition,” to quote Joseph Campbell,) was promulgated by the Theosophical Society with Helena Blavatsky primary among its 1875 founders, In Theosophy, the atma (Sanskrit, “soul”) is the Higher Self so often taught in New Age self-help practices to be the individual’s source of true wisdom.The difficulty with the term higher self becomes evident when one asks the obvious question, “Higher than what?”

The notion that a lower self (or consciousness) exists within us all and must be overcome or improved by a higher self (or consciousness) pervades the New Age assumptions drawn from 19th and 20th century esotericism—which, in turn, borrow extensively from Hindu and Buddhist concepts that buried the Old English vocabulary of the witch, and even the Latinate vocabulary of the ceremonial magician. Even the religion of Thelema, product of Aleister Crowley (and Rabelaisian fiction) presupposes that practitioners have a “True Will” that manages their ethical dictum: “Love is the Law, Love under Will.”

Where Witchcraft Meets Dichotomy

Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?

—The Wizard of Oz, Glinda the Good the witch of the north, to Dorothy upon her arrival in Oz

Glinda’s question mirrors a more modern one, often posed to me: “Do you do white magic?” And the questioner invariably looked nervous while asking. Twenty-odd years of teaching, and I reflexively reply, “Is a hammer good when it hits the nail and bad when it hits your thumb?”

Magic is a tool, just as is a hammer. It is a tool used by witches, and a great many others; goodness or badness is a matter of perspective. More to the point, it is not a dichotomy, a division, at all. Goodness and badness as qualities are two ends of a spectrum, and less than that, or more. For a spectrum implies a line, or a series along a line, and goodness and badness do not fall into such a narrow space.  Good magic may mean effective magic, or helpful magic, or healing magic. Bad magic may mean baleful magic, or ineffective magic, or selfish magic. And sometimes selfish magic is beneficial, just as sometimes good magic is interference.

Outside of deliberately contrived fiction, witchcraft connects us to each other, to nature, and to balance. At the solstices, dark or light, humans yearn for a return to a balance. Summer solstice having just passed in the North, the 16 hours of daylight begin to interfere with needful sleep. Walking for fun or exercise is done at times of day when shadows fall broadly, and one instinctively chooses to walk on the shadowed side of the street. In the same way, at winter solstice, with daylight throttled to a scant 8 hours, dry moments of daylight are cherished, and the sun-warmth on skin is welcome, if rare.

labyrinthNorseWicca celebrates the Wheel of the Year, and yet the wheel we speak of is not a wheel but a spiral, for when we reach a point along its cycle, we are in a different time and space. Ancient and modern petroglyphs depict such spirals and their cousin–labyrinths.

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel…

“The Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

 

 

Reverence Wonders…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

Here concludes a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Reverence?

Modern culture won’t teach you the meaning of reverence. The dictionary defines it as “a feeling of deep respect; awe; or veneration.” Veneration in turn points back to reverence, and modern usage of the word awful (full of awe) renders that word nearly meaningless in our invent-a-word-every-week approach to language—more accurately to the jargon we so often substitute for language. Respect retains a little meaning…yet most people think of Aretha Franklin’s feminist anthem before—unless they’re thinking of Rodney Dangerfield.

Reverence, then, is perhaps the most difficult of all these qualities to pin down. Multi-layered excavation into the word focuses my attention on two words:

  • Awe
    Originally, awe meant simply, “struck with dread or fear”; Oxford today defines it: “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or dread.”
    Wonder—a word equivalent to miracle a millennium ago, and, the emotion felt when witnessing a miracle—that is the closest I find in today’s lexicon that conveys such meaning.
  • Worthy
    Worthy comes into reverence when defined as “worthy of respect.”  Worthy, however, is a word with key meaning to British Traditional Wicca. Having merit or nobility comes closest to defining one’s worth, at least within the Wicca.

So, what is reverence?

In the context of the Charge, having reverence within you, tells me to heed, and to cherish, those interactions—conversations, meditations, observations—that elicit wonder, that are worth my time, that flutter my heart, that shake my spirit.

Reverence Without

I have experienced reverence — wonder, awe, respect — most frequently in two sorts of locales:

Nature

  • California_River_Otterwatching a wild river otter playing waterslide over the rapids in the Trinity River, from close enough that my toes were in the river on the far bank!
  • when old-growth redwoods entreated/pleaded/demanded I continue my inexpert solitary recorder serenade played on the stage of the open-air Redwood Forest Theater redwoods_forest_theater_stage.jpgamid Armstrong Redwoods in the Russian River valley — I had always wanted to try the acoustics, was there on an early March drizzly day with the place empty, and had with me a second-hand wooden tenor recorder, which I was learning to play; the trees made us continue until the recorder lost its voice owing to condensation in its throat.
  • observing the shadow bands over the eastern Oregon desert during my first total solar eclipse in February 1979…and sharing them with my partner in August 2017

Between the Worlds

  • deity contacts
    RabbitintheMoonwhen Selene showed me the marchhare-moonMarch Hare
    – when Athena chose me as Her priestess
    – when Lugh identified Himself as my protector
    – when Pan & Spider Woman made Themselves
    evident among the redwoods
    – when Salmon Woman informed me she’s a face of Brigantia, Athena, & Bride
  • discovering ungroundedness when I was brought in to the Wicca
  • experiencing the Descent of the Goddess
  • whenever one of my initiates draws down for the first time

Reverence Within

Here is where the Lady’s advice proves most challenging, when individual Witches must learn to be gentle with themselves, to cherish the wonder & awe within themselves, to acknowledge & respect their own strengths…while uncovering & addressing their own failings.

“For behold, I am the mother of all things, and my love is poured out upon the earth.”
The Charge of the Goddess, prose version, Doreen Valiente (Ameth)

 

 

Mirth Lightens…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Mirth?

merriment_outside_rome

Harvest merriment outside the walls of Rome.

Mirth means joy or pleasure although modern dictionaries equate the word mirth with laughter & levity. The word itself is simply the noun form of the adjective merry, which means pleasant, agreeable, or sweet. Every winter in the USA people wish each other a “Merry Christmas” while across the Atlantic the British express the same sentiment as “Happy Christmas.”

A traditional time for merriment is after the annual harvest—grain, fruits, fish, nuts—has been successfully gathered and stored. Harvest Home festivities include the early October Erntedankfest in Germany including the famed Munich Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving in Canada on October‘s second Monday, and Michaelmas in Scotland at the end of September—a occasion which inherits customs from the Celtic games at Lughnasadh.

Mirth Without

“We all need joy, and we can all receive joy…by adding to the joy of others.”
—Eknath Easwaran, The End of Sorrow

“Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased…”
—Spider Robinson

CAbuckeye-flowerspikeMirth or merriment is sometimes where one finds it. The seasonal Easter marquee that fronts a local (Christian) church along a minor arterial street in my neck of the woods reiterates the annual proclamation I’ve heard & seen for 60 years…“He is risen!”—for years an in-your-face irritant of springtide, at least when combined with the annual plague of grass allergies.

EARLYARTFreyrMost recently, the image that brought mind is the priapic image of the flowering California buckeye in all its phallic glory—in its turn a reminder of the sacred sexuality of the Hornéd One. And I burst out laughing, with a whole new twist on that old irritation—one that will no longer irk as it has for decades.

Mirth Within

Clearly, having mirth within you is not the same thing as laughing all the time. Mirth is an attitude, taking joy in everyday things, being pleasant with yourself and with others. Certainly laughter may be a result of such an attitude, and supports the attitude itself. Mirth and merriment acts to counter-weight life‘s inevitable irritations and frustrations; much more significant is support of such attitude when facing crisis, tragedy, and loss.

“They that love mirth, let them heartily drink,
‘Tis the only receipt to make sorrow sink.”
—Ben Jonson, Entertainments

dog-bones

NOTHING is like a Burden Cloth!

Enjoying small things even in the midst of sorrow is an instance of keeping at least a spark mirth within. Although I grieved at the death of my mother, I took pleasure in the knowledge that she was able to live her life independently until the end; she sold her Burden Cloth totes at Eugene‘s Tuesday Market the very day before her death. As I gave instructions for her bodily disposal, I handed the funeral home one of her own Farm Size Burden Cloth™ totes to be used for her shroud…and she still wore the prior day‘s t-shirt, one she”d had silkscreened with the image at left & beneath it: “NOTHING is like a Burden Cloth!

Other aspects of her disposal also pleased me, as it would her—the funeral home had arrangements with a local MD who would remove her pacemaker (not suited for either burial or cremation), containing as it did heavy metals)…and although the MD could not do so within the USA, he workd with an organization that sterilized such used pacemakers and supplied their life-saving technology to patients in poor countries abroad. Carol ones wrote an article entitled “Where in the world is Away” on the topic of re-use and re-cycling. I could feel her approval as I signed the paperwork for that detail. Odd to feel pleasure amid the grief. Odd, but true, and supportive. Mirth—joy or pleasure or merriment or even levity—does indeed lighten the spirit.

A Lammastide Tale

Once a time, a great forest covered the westlands, streambanks and flatlands, vales and dales, meadows and hillocks, mountains and ravines and chasms deep in the heart of the country. Many kinds of trees grew there, the lesser—the rhododendron and buckeye, the dogwood and laurel, the manzanita and toyon and the greater—the dugh fir and the live oak, the tanoak and the madrone, the bay laurel and the huge valley oak.

redwoodscale.png - 1But greatest of all trees in the forest was the redwood, the sequoia, massive amid mountains or towering high along the land’s edge to drink the twilight fogs, gift of the sea. For those sequoia were more than single trees, they were the mother-tree of all the forest, gathering the mists to water its neighbors, amassing its duff to mulch the forest against the summer sun, and even in death, when an ancient tree, windfallen, cleared a space within the forest, new redwoods sprang quickly from its mouldering body.

RedwoodStreamCanyonAnd in that land, where stood these tallest of trees, blanketing the sharp-edged landscape, many waters flowed, tiny rivulets carving paths in the clay soil, or great rivers flowing easily over wide, pebbled streambeds. And not all the waters of that land were above it, for beneath the forest, the waters also ran, chill from mountainous seeps or heated with the very fires of the svartelven folk, the dwarves whose smithies ring powerful in saga and tale alike—but that is another story.

Among those waters ran a everlasting clear stream that issued forth from under the roots of a lofty, towering sequoia, old when the Norsemen relinquished their grip on the vine-lands—but that, too, is another story. From out a lightless hollow between two buttress-roots the which knotted firmly into the golden clay soil sprang forth lustily a pure gush of water, and, falling, smoothed the clay banks of the creek that issued therefrom. Even in these latter days, you may still see the remnants of this great forest, hidden away in clefts of the hillsides, nursed back to health in patches of treasured enclaves, or awaiting destruction from the hand of man.

redwoods-sunburnsofffog

In these latter days, it came to pass that one such forest enclave still preserved the ancient lofty redwood and its astonishing freshwater fountain, untouched but for the addition of a cup, hooked at the great tree’s foot, ready to hand.

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 8.04.22 PM

Now in these days of sorrow for the forest, it came about that a harvest feast was held in that preserve whence stood the goddess-tree and her sacred spring. And a daughter of the preserve-keepers, those multi-generation farm folk, shared withal the secret of the spring, leading another girl Doireann, then but a lanky lass, into the edge of forest, and bade her drink, from the cup, of the earth’s bounty. And Doireann drank as she was bidden, and found it good.

It came about at the next harvest feasting that, though her guide—the farm daughter—was absent, Doireann was drawn alone into the deep woods. She traversed the trace, darkening from sunlight to forest dim, unsummoned, along the clay path beneath the sword fern and trillium that edged it and the watercourse to its wond’rous source, the sweet spring, for she was drawn to see and smell and drink this marvel once again. She followed her feet and her heart until she came to the great goddess-sequoia, and she felt of the texture and form of the tree, getting to know it better.

And she plunged both hands into the freshet, rinsing her hands and arms of the dust and sweat of the open country (where the Lammas sun beat fiercely beyond the cool forest air), scooping chill handfuls to cleanse her face as well. At last, she took the cup from its hook and rinsed it and drank deeply of the waters of the land, and knew that it was sacred. Leaving, she said naught of her feeling and her experience to others, fearing to make it seem less than it had been. For she felt a tie with the land, with the sequoia, with the forest that seemed new to her, yet long familiar. 

And that is the story of how Doireann met the mother-redwood and her sacred spring, but that is not the last of her tales, for it was she who serenaded the ancient sequoia of Armstrong Grove, and it was she who met the Hornéd One amid another redwood forest, and it was she who was gifted with wildlife contact amid the redwood expanse that yet survives—but those are other stories.

hollowredwood

Humility Equalizes…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Humility?

Having humility means to be humble. And humble means “modest, lowly in manner, respectful”—the word derives from the same root as the word humus, the organic matter of soil…or, what comes out of your compost heap when it is ready to dig into your vegetable garden. Grounded, rooted, earthed—those are the words I would also choose as having similar meaning, certainly in a magical sense.

While I expound on definitions, here are a few more root meanings that follow through the maze of interrelated definitions:

  • modest—self-controlled, moderate, temperate
  • manner—method, appearance, custom, bearing
  • respect—regard, esteem, favor

“Pride separates people; humility joins them.”
—Socrates, c. 5th century BCE

This quote of Socrates’ supports something I & my high priest taught our students for the past two decades—if you boil Wicca down to a one-word core concept, it is “connection”; (K.C.’s example for Christianity was “forgiveness” or for Buddhism was “mindfulness”). Humility joins people, and that junction, that connection, so key to the love and trust intrinsic to Wiccan magic & Wiccan ritual—that connection depends on the equalizing effect of humility as much as it depends on that love and trust.

Humility Without

I choose to employ modest as the most useful synonym for humility. Moderate in manner, showing respect for others, holding one‘s own accomplishments as equal in worth to those of others—those are traits of a humble person.

…remember what peace there may be in silence…
Speak your truth quietly and clearly

Keep interested in your own career, however humble…
—Max Ehrmann, Desiderata excerpts

Humility Within

“As if true pride
Were not also humble!”
—Robert Browning

Without resorting an exposition on the necessity of self-esteem, I will simply say that the healthy spirit values its own achievements, addresses and repairs its own failures, and rejects both undeserved praise together with undeserved opprobrium. Aristotle wordily discusses, in his Nicomachean Ethics, what I will summarize as a spectrum of internal evaluation, or self-esteem: with inappropriate humility at one end and vainglory at the far end; he places earned pride as a balanced midpoint. Browning‘s simple couplet encapsulates Aristotle’s essay, yet both emphasize the value of knowing one’s own worth.

 

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Honor Enriches…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Honor?

Definitions feel more emphatic when a word retains its nature for more than two millennia, especially in this bleeding-edge society where yesterday’s newest invention equals tomorrow’s midden-filling. Honor/honour is defined (and has been defined since BCE Rome) “dignity or reputation.” As is my habit, I dug a little deeper, chasing definitions of the definition, and find that dignity means “worth (or worthiness), proper, fitting.” My fellow BTW initiates may take particular note of those two words: proper and worthy—both used within our core ceremonies to identify someone newly become one of the Wicca.

One’s reputation is built upon others’ experience. Everything you do and say creates your reputation; nothing you do or say is likely to improve a poor reputation except possibly a sea change in one’s words & deeds over considerable time.

  • Keep your word
    Making promises is easy; keeping them often hard. Think first, before you give a promise, even to a child (especially to a child, children remember broken promises!)
  • Pay your debts
    Whether monies owed are a formal, paper-recorded commitment or merely a nod or handshake to a friend who covers one’s lunch tab the day before payday, cold hard cash is as memorable a broken promise as there is. As an indicator of anyone’s trustworthiness, the earthy reality of gelt/wampum/dough/scratch/valuta speaks volumes, silently.
  • Be on time
    “Pagan Standard Time” is a poor attempt at humor. It is not funny. Public circles or sabbats or events that start 60 to 90 minutes after the published starting time induce low regard for aught that names itself Pagan—religions, traditions, faiths: Witch, Lodge Magic, Druid, Asatru, Voudon, Heathen, Wiccan, Troth, Thelema, etc.

Doubtless other examples will occur to my readers, but I believe those are enough to sharpen my point. In societies around the globe and across thousands of years, honor/honour is a commodity valued in actual noble metals.

  • Norse and related societies paid weregild penalty in compensation for murder & manslaughter
  • Celtic peoples recorded in brehon law how “honor price” was to be calculated and paid
  • A man’s standing, known as dignitas, was a social asset in Republican Rome
  • Today as much as yesterday, Asian societies rely on the virtual lubrication of face

Honor Without

Today, the highest honor given to ordinary people in the USA is the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The very name of this highest civilian recognition—the Medal of Honor—imparts some small sense of the respect given to recipients, and the worth of those recipients to be so honored.

Honor Without

Today, the highest honor given to ordinary people in the USA is the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The very name of this highest civilian recognition—the Medal of Honor—imparts some small sense of the respect given to recipients, and the worth of those recipients to be so honored.

mary_edwards_walkerMOH

Mary Edwards Walker, MD, sole woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor She wore it throughout her lifetime.

As the previous sentence demonstrates, it is impossible to speak or write of the concept of honor/honour without using the very words we employ to define it. Alas, such circular definitions may limit comprehension of a new concept—but the notion of honor, of worth, of respect are enacted on playgrounds every day. Our culture may value individual honor/honour above the sociodynamic face of many other cultures, yet we adopted the concept into English almost as soon as, historically, we encountered it (early 19th century, per dictionaries). Children & adults alike grasp the relationship concept of saving face or losing face—in the classroom, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and in the bedroom.

Honor Within

Quotes say so much about this topic, and so vividly, that the many voices speak louder than mine:

…honour is a possession of soul…
—de la Barca, The Mayor of Salamea

And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.
—Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

For titles do not reflect honor on men, but rather men on their titles.
—Machiavelli, Dei Discorsi

The nation’s honor is dearer than the nation’s comfort; yes, than the nation’s life itself.
—Woodrow Wilson

Beyond that, I note that one’s self-esteem translates into French as amour propre—a phrase which translates idiomatically to self-esteem, but when dissassembled into amour/love and propre/clean, appropriate, or particular to oneself. My own take on this concept reminds me of moment in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden:

Tha doesna like this one and tha doesna like that one. How does tha like thysen, then?
(Translated from the Yorkshire dialect: “Thou dost not like this one and thou dost not like that one. How dost thou like thyself, then?”)

 

 

Sacred springs…

inWater is life.      —First Peoples saying

675px-Winged_horse_Louvre

Greek bronze Pegasus figure, 6th century BCE

Having spoken of the Muses’ sacred spring, Hippocrene (which translates to mean “horse fountain”), it seems fitting to mention the myth of the spring’s creation. Tales tell that Pegasus—himself described as the steed of the Muses—upon launching himself skyward, that his hoof clove the rock of Mt. Helicon, opening the Hippocrene fountainhead  at that place. The Hippocrene remains accessible to hikers on Mt. Helicon today, with a battered old bucket chained to the stone well opening, allowing visitors to reach the subterranean water a few yards (meters) below the opening.

A Scattering of Sacred Springs

Look within, for within is the wellspring of virtue…      —Marcus Aurelius

As the Standing Rock water protectors have reminded us all, “Water is Life.” Freshwater sources, wells and springs, are and have been from time immemorial, regarded with respect at the least and awe at the most. Freshwater natural springs & wells are sacred around the globe.

  • Licton Spring, which I have had the honor to visit personally, is sacred to the Duwamish and intermarried regional tribes of Puget Sound; a source for the medicinal red ochre.
  • The goddess Brigid’s well in Kildare is older than the saint into which the goddess was subsumed. Brigid symbols abound: her sacred flame for forge & crafting; her sacred well for healing & inspiration; her Celtic cross for sun & grain.
  • Aquae Sulis The natural hot springs in Britain’s city of Bath are named for the mineral springs there revered by the Celtic Brythons before Rome supplied the Latin name. The occupying Romans knew her as Sulis Minerva (Minerva is the name they knew Athena by, goddess of wise counsel & creativity), while the Brythonic folk knew Sulis as a healer and judge.
  • Hippocrene fount, sacred spring of the Muses upon Mt. Helicon; the name (Greek compounded of words meaning “horse” & “fountain”) refers to the myth that Athena brought Pegasus as a young colt to be raised by the Muses; when the adult Pegasus leapt for the sky, his hoof clove the stone open to reveal the water beneath, which was reputed to grant inspiration to those who drink of it.