Read an Excerpt
A Woman's Book of Rituals & Celebrations
By Barbara Ardinger
New World LibraryCopyright © 1995 Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
AN M-WORD, TWO W-WORDS, AND AN R-WORD
In a world apparently ruled by technology and testosterone, people go to church or temple maybe once a week, usually less. In this world, our daily life is concerned with what's on the six o'clock news or what's happening at the mall. We turn to our gods only when we need a favor.
There have always been people, however, who are just a little bit different from the rest of us. They're the rare ones who take seriously the idea of the divine manifesting daily in the world. They take seriously the idea that we should cherish others as we cherish ourselves and that we should also cherish ourselves at least as much as we cherish the things we buy. They actually feel a mind-fixing connection with both heaven and earth. They also see and hear things the rest of us don't.
So we call them crazy or weird. Or maybe we refer to them as saints or poets or artists. Occasionally we even throw the M-word at them: These foolish people are mystics.
Now mysticism does not necessarily have to be what the standard-brand religions have been telling us it is. It does not have to mean running away from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and retreating into a cloister or a mountaintop cave. It's not hysteria, it's not escapism, it doesn't require any special equipment or qualifications.
Mysticism is not a matter of doing anything special; it's a way of life. It's recognizing that we're related to everyone else, even those who don't look like us or talk like us. It's recognizing the living fact that everyone on earth is a child of Mother Earth and that eagles and eels and beetles and green leaves are all Her children too. It's really acting out the Golden Rule and seeing the star stuff of which we're all made.
Mysticism in the tradition of the Goddess is living an ordinary life, not acting spacy or sanctimonious or as if we were specially "chosen." It's making a living, making car payments, disciplining our kids. It's doing regular things but doing them in an attitude that some call mindfulness. This means being aware of what we're doing, reflecting on our thoughts. It's living with raised consciousness.
As I see it, then, mysticism is purely practical, and it helps us get along in the world. It could help everyone get along by getting things done efficiently and gracefully. It's bringing high concepts down to earth, grounding lofty ideals like "ethical behavior," "lawfulness," and "right living."
Mystics help it all hang together. They patch the rips in the web of life and give limbo lessons to people who keep tripping up in the dance of life.
You may not think you're a mystic, or maybe you've just never thought of religion in this way. You might be surprised. Do an inventory of your own path of faith. If you're anything like me, you've come to your present belief along a winding path. I was born into a Calvinist church and explored most of the nooks and crannies of New Thought, metaphysics, and Eastern religions before I got where I am now.
When you've completed your own inventory, try the following ritual. (I like to do it under the full moon.)
A Ritual for the Path of My Faith
If you have any physical souvenirs (like your christening gown or Sunday school attendance pins or Unitarian Universalist Association card), gather them and lay them in chronological order in a wide zig-zag (snake track) in front of you. If all you've kept are the memories, write names or vignettes on paper or cards and lay them on the floor. If you have memories or fantasies from former lives, add them to the path. Finally, get something that symbolizes what you believe now and hold it in both hands. This could be a pine cone, a favorite crystal, a feather, or a Goddess image. It could also be a handful of "empty" space that only appears to be empty, for it is really full of consciousness.
Sit comfortably, facing your past and holding your present, and read the following words or tape them beforehand and listen to them or use them as a model to make up your own words.
I face the path of my faith.
This is the way I've come,
the journey my soul has taken
to bring me where I am today.
I recall the people I've met on this path,
kind and unkind —
Whatever they did, they walked with me awhile
and showed me their paths.
I bless their being and their teaching.
I remember events and encounters along the way,
pleasant or painful,
always instructive —
Whatever happened, it was useful,
and in its own integrity it was beautiful.
I learned to follow my own path,
I learned where I must go,
I bless the path of my past.
Still holding the symbol of your present, turn around. Turn your back on your past, put it behind you.
Holding my present in my own hands,
I face my future now.
I face a new path every morning,
every day I step forward on an unknown path,
a unique path sprinkled with the star stuff
of the Goddess.
In Her presence, past, present, and future are one time
and I'm where I'm supposed to be —
now and always:
my path is in Her.
Close your eyes and think about what this means to you. If you want to, begin writing a mystical journal.
Worship and Witches
The M-word leads our thoughts to the first W-word: as we live in our everyday lives, we find ourselves engaging more and more in worship. Before it becomes action, worship is focus; it is what is called mindfulness. To some people worship means keeping an "attitude of gratitude," to others worship is seeing the "worth-ship" in life. Let's consider what worship means to us.
It used to be kneeling down and raising the eyes to the ethereal skies and saying, "I obey." It used to be following strict procedures, sticking to an order of service. Deviation used to be swiftly punished.
Today, however, especially among mystics, worship is saying, "I respect." It's creating altars and making music. It's saying, "I love and cherish because I recognize something of which I'm a part. I want to celebrate my recognition."
You can worship in a specifically defined holy place or you can worship just about anywhere on our planet, which is itself a holy place. You can sit or stand near your own altar and see how that altar embodies the earth and all the earthly, earthy powers. You can worship with silent prayer, do a private ritual in your bedroom first thing in the morning, or gather and hold hands with like-minded and like-hearted people to strengthen your connections with one another and with all our kin on earth.
Worship doesn't require any special equipment or qualifications. To a mystic, worship is, in fact, a way of life. We just seem to do it all the time, whether we're paying much attention to it or not.
Although all the standard-brand religions, both Western and Eastern, have produced their own mystics and their own kinds of worship, some of us who accept our own mysticism and worship in unorthodox ways use the second W-word to describe ourselves: we're Witches.
Who is a Witch? If we took a survey, we could probably find as many definitions of the word as there are people who use it. Twenty years ago, for example, we were told to say "I am a Witch" three times and really think about what we were saying. We thought that made us a Witch.
Why use the word "Witch"? It seems to be a scary word, with all its connotations of green skin and spells and evil decrepitude. A less threatening word is "Wicca," which is said to come from Middle English words that mean "wise" and "to bend." A Witch, or Wiccan, is thus a wise person who bends power.
The words Witch and Wiccan are not, however, strictly synonymous. Many people believe that "Witch" refers specifically to spiritual feminists (well, OK, an occasional man, too) whose worship is focused on the Goddess, whereas '"Wiccans" are both men and women who worship both the old gods and the goddesses. It's also pretty safe to say that those who call themselves Wiccans generally tend to be closer to ceremonial magic in their rituals than most who call themselves Witches are, Witches being famously eclectic. But these distinctions are not universal. I know several male Witches (male Witches are never called warlocks or wizards) who are as devoted to the Goddess as I am, and many people who prefer "Wicca" simply because it sounds more respectable.
Like some other Witchy authors, I prefer the blunter word, "Witch." It gets people's attention. Because I am a kind, intelligent person, I can demonstrate to the world that "wicked" does not automatically define "Witch." By saying I'm a Witch, I can help restore honor to the thousands or millions of alleged witches who were burned by the Christian Inquisition during the European Renaissance. By saying I'm a Witch, I'm telling you what my religion is.
A Witch accepts the reality of the Great Goddess who was worshipped 30,000 or more years ago and whose followers were persecuted by the fathers (the infamous patriarchs) of the desert churches.
Today, most people who call themselves Witches worship the Goddess. Many Witches also worship Her son/consort, the Horned God. Modern Witches, who are included in a diverse group called Neo-Pagans, follow an ancient, earth-based religion whose focus is on a Mother down here with us instead of a Father way up there, far away from us.
We Witches are reviving ancient ways of worshipping. We're reinventing the archaic, earthy mysticism that says the flesh is holy and the spirit is just finely strained matter (or, conversely, matter is just clotted, lumpy spirit).
Since we don't know, however, exactly how people living as far back as the Stone Age worshipped the Goddess, we who live today have to use our best guesses about the ancient forms of worship. We use our intuition, our vision, and hints and suggestions from many sources, including archaeological discoveries and evidence from books in which the old ways were described in order to anathematize them.
This makes us a very eclectic bunch, and when we worship we often make it up as we go along. Our worship is ordered, but it's seldom orderly. That's one reason why there are so many traditions and processes, so many ways of doing rituals (which all seem to work), and so many books that seem to contradict each other. I believe that they really complement each other. I believe that Witchcraft is catholic in the original sense of the word: general and all-inclusive.
When Witches worship, how do we do it? The answer to this question lies in the R-word: we use rituals.
Most simply, a ritual is a repeatable, and often repeated, action that has a specific meaning and an objective or intention. The actions and the words, or both, serve to put the person doing the ritual into an altered state of consciousness, which may be worshipful or experimental or playful. The altered state of consciousness gets us in touch with invisible powers, which may be intrinsic (our untapped imagination and unfertilized creativity) or extrinsic (goddesses, elemental spirits, devas, etc.), and we then work with these powers. Ritual is both a process and a procedure. The steps common to most rituals will be discussed in Chapter 4.
In its secular sense of "habitual action," a ritual can be your customary morning routine. It's the foggy, groggy, automatic way you get out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash, and get dressed. Your morning ritual can include all the little informal ceremonies you create to bless your day and make it work better. It can be the way you get ready to do some task.
Ritual elements in our daily lives can be mundane (the way we put our socks on) but we can also use rituals to make our lives more beautiful, like setting fresh flowers on the table or desk, unpacking and washing Grandma's dishes for Thanksgiving, writing thank-you notes, or helping our children prepare for their first day of school or graduation (major rituals in themselves).
In this sense of enlivening our days and making them graceful and memorable, ritual enhances our lives. The repeatability and predictability of ritual add a bit of security to our ages of chaos. Doing a ritual puts us into the right mood. Ritual can bring us comfort or inspiration. It can link us to the past and help us prepare for the future by making today more meaningful. That was the purpose of the little ritual you did earlier in this chapter.
Carried to extremes, of course, even the grandest ritual can also dig us more deeply into our ruts, and that's why we need to remember the sacred sense of ritual. Instead of ruts, rituals can create paths.
Did you learn to close your eyes and fold your hands when you pray, and do you still do so? That's one ritualistic element of worship. So is the order of service at a church or temple. You always know pretty much what is going to happen and when, whether you're attending High Holy Mass, a Pentecostal revival, or a Bar Mitzvah. In almost any given worship service, the ritual is written out.
Some pagan rituals are simple and quiet, like the act of selecting beautiful, meaningful objects for your altar and arranging them on it. Lighting a candle, focusing your attention, and speaking or reading a dramatic verse is a simple, private ritual. At the other extreme is an outdoor spiral dance for 500 people, accompanied by a pagan dance band of doumbeks, frame drums, rattles, and tambourines. The spiral dance winds along its own labyrinthine path around a central point (altar or bonfire), faster and faster and faster. It stirs up enormous energy and is something we should all experience at least once in our lives, even if we end up in breathless collapse.
In between the two extremes are private or public rituals to celebrate the full and new moons, to empower a special project (as I did when I started to work in earnest on this book), to beckon love or money into our lives, to celebrate a friend's good fortune, to bless a new home. Any occasion is an occasion for ritual, alone or with friends.CHAPTER 2
THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF THE GODDESS
As our Mother Earth and all her children dance in the Age of Aquarius (or the New Age or the Millennium), more and more people are wondering if the things we measure only with our minds and machines are enough to nourish our lives. We're asking if the things we buy and sell are what we really want, after all. We're looking for the invisible, nourishing dimension of life that hasn't been really accessible since the Industrial Revolution lined us all up and started whirring, cranking, and belching at us. We've been reaching forward to new and improved technology or backwards to the so-called "traditional" values. But I wonder ... have we been reaching in the right direction?
What would happen if we reached inward instead? What if we laid hands on the small, dark, precious seeds of creativity and love that rest deep inside us all? Instead of focusing on outward things to help and heal us, what would happen if we focused inward?
What would happen if we began to practice the presence of the Goddess?
Re-creating the Mystical Dimension
What I'm talking about, of course, is something men and women have been doing for millennia: re-creating the mystical dimension in their lives, in life itself. We are renewing our personal mystical connection to the divine.
What I'm also talking about is a significant change in mystical practice — not a forswearing of earthly life and material goodies and a retreat to a mountaintop, but a thoughtful, heartfelt return to the much-maligned earth plane.
As far as we can tell from the archaeological evidence, the archaic, rural followers of the Old Religions lived closer to the earth than we do today. They called her Mama and lived in harmony with the light and the dark, observing and celebrating the phases of the moon and the year. Their modern children — we who call ourselves Neo-Pagans or Witches or other followers of the new earth-based religions — are returning to or reinventing these ancient observations and celebrations.
Author/astrologer Demetra George says that one reason we're re-creating our new/old religion is that the Goddess Herself is re-emerging into the world. Like the moon, Her life moves in phases and cycles. Her new moon phase was the dawn of the Upper Paleolithic (ca. 38,000 B.C.E.), when humankind walked out of Africa and began to settle in western Europe. Her waxing phase, says George, began about 11,000 B.C.E., when women discovered agriculture and invented cooking. This phase lasted through the Neolithic, and we have much evidence of worship of the feminine principle, the unnamed Great Goddess, in ruins throughout Old Europe (beginning ca. 7,000 B.C.E.) and in the earliest cities, such as Jericho (9,500 B.C.E.), Catal Huyuk (6,500 B.C.E.), and Halicar (5,600 B.C.E.). The Goddess's waning phase began about 3,000 B.C.E. with the rise of the earliest patriarchal religions. She has been sleeping in Her natural dark moon phase for 5,000 years and is now awakening to begin Her next new moon phase.
Excerpted from A Woman's Book of Rituals & Celebrations by Barbara Ardinger. Copyright © 1995 Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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