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CELEBRATING THE GODDESS AS A SOLITARY PAGAN
By Janet Thompson
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1993 Janet Thompson
All rights reserved.
COMING TO WICCA
The way by which Wiccans come to the Craft and the incredibly varied opinions of authors in the field sparked this chapter. There are those who feel that you must be one of two types of initiate. If you have been initiated by an Alexandrian or Gardinerian witch, then you are welcomed. If you claim hereditary lines from your family line, then it is assumed you are a true witch. The very idea of someone being in the Craft by other roads is abhorrent to many Wiccan authors.
Many witches, however, have reached the path by other means and can be very powerful, indeed. All who stay on the Wiccan Way must be assumed sincere, otherwise they would have chosen a more fulfilling one. Being an active and practicing witch takes time and effort. There really is no such thing as a Sunday witch. You must work to increase your potential powers and you must take time to learn. Wicca is a life system as well as a practical religion. It must be used to be strong.
Some witches have memory of another lifetime lived as a witch and feel that the Craft is still within them. They may not have a mother or grandmother to show them practical work, but with the help of books and friends of the Craft, they develop their own style and interpretation of this poetic and healing life. These people I call Reincarnational Wiccans.
Others feel their roots through family lines or feel ancestral geography strong within their blood. Their ancestors may have had a brief or lengthy interlude within the arms of an organized faith, but the line is one descended from pagan roots. Mind you, as Margot Adler has pointed out, if we go back far enough, everyone's ancestors were pagans. But in this case I am talking on a more immediate basis. These witches I refer to as Ancestral Wiccans. Their sincerity and devotion to the Craft is not within anyone's right to question or judge. Other witches should use their powers of tolerance and understand that ancestral Witches are just as Wiccan as they are.
There are others still who really cannot identify the source of their inspiration, but choose the path because it provides them with personal growth and peace. There are many fine self-initiation rituals available today and they express the Craft clearly in their symbolism. These witches cannot be judged by others either, because every witch knows that it is the sincerity and honesty with which you do your work that is the key factor. If self-initiated witches' work is filled with non-destructive forces, and they keep to the Rede, then, indeed, they are witches.
There are many, like myself, who have a pull to the Craft from a combination of these ways. I am an Ancestral Witch by birthline, and my relationship with the origins of my family are deep within me. On the maternal side, I claim Craft through solid Celtic lineage. My people were not aristocrats and were probably land folk. The land folk were and still are very Craft-oriented. The festivals are still celebrated–or, at the very least, recognized–alongside the Christian holy days. On my father's side, I come from a long history of land folk in Hungary. These people became very Christian, but were still very much involved with the seasonal changes and pagan traditions.
I recognize myself as a Reincarnational Witch through a long series of regression sessions and spontaneous memory. My work is peppered with sudden remembrances of methods from long ago. I find myself reaching for specific herbs that I have not used before, but with which I have had previous intimate bonding.
My degree from university is in the classical tradition and in philosophy. My draw to things Greek, Roman, and Egyptian has been a lifelong passion. The education I received was like coming home, and many of my regressions revealed lives in these periods. I was not Cleopatra, nor a princess, nor anyone famous; on the contrary, I was involved in the religions of the ancient world, in a place that set me far apart from the general populous.
I am a High Priestess of Third Degree in Celtic tradition. My teacher and initiator achieved Crafthood from a Priestess of Celtic hereditary lines. The main problem with the idea of a witch of any contemporary line is that one cannot be 100 percent sure of the unbroken continuation of each through Europe and into Canada and the USA. We must trust our instincts and judgment when it comes to working with someone. We cannot ask for a personal history from everyone we meet. How a person reaches the light is irrelevant in the long run. Just as a Christian finds peace through faith, witches find peace through Wicca. If the Rede stands firm in the mind of the witch–and it harm none, do what ye will–then the witch is true.
The measure of a good witch is not the method of a spell, nor is it the way the person reached the Craft, but lies in the effort and sincerity of the practitioner. I know that I am a witch. None need believe me but neither do they have the right to judge me. My work and human relationships prove that I would die before deliberately harming anyone or anything. I do powerful spells when they are needed. I find joy and peace in my work and from the Craft in all respects. That is the bottom line. I cannot stand to see Brothers and Sisters of the Craft quibble about who is more Wiccan than whom. It does not matter so long as we all work toward our peaceful goals together. I find in my interludes with other witches that many find peace and are happy to converse in the Craft. Others are so busy espousing their credentials that they seem to forget the main purposes of the Craft, and that is the healing and humane work we are avowed to carry on.
Many authors have contributed books on the Craft in simplicity so that those who wish to follow the path may do so without the fear of needing elaborate surroundings or written knowledge of some obscure language. Some write about the Old Country practices and the lovely seasonal festivals that have been held for thousands of years. Others write books with elaborate ritual that greatly enhances the atmosphere of the Circle for many. Whatever the contribution may be, each witch has a talent and if the intent is clear and pure, then the work that we can accomplish as a community of colleagues and friends in the Craft is limitless. We have the power to literally change the world. We can educate, give talks, and encourage care of the Mother. We can continue to advocate environmentally sound practices and attitudes. We can contribute to our communities in the tradition of the Old Ways. We can provide spiritual encouragement and care. We can spread love and healing no matter what the scale. By enhancing our own lives with the peace of Wicca, we enhance the lives of those around us. We can pass on a respect for the Mother. We can show our children, by example, what is required to ensure a green planet in the future.
People come to my home for readings, classes, workshops, or just to visit. Many have made the comment that they leave feeling as though they have been recharged; they feel rejuvenated. This is not something I deliberately try to achieve, but rather, through my work I emit a great deal of energy that they must absorb when they spend time here. I have also been told that on occasion I glow! This is the light of the Goddess reflected in my eyes. I feel her within me. I feel safe in the lessons she is conveying to me. The path to the light does indeed come through one's eyes no matter what that path may be. If it is built on love and integrity, then it will shine through, lighting the hearts of those it touches.
That is not to say that we never have upsetting or negative periods. On the contrary, we are human and react in human ways. But because of our strong faith, we may deal with the negative in more immediate ways than others do. Our work is immediate but the effects may take time. Despite this time, we know we have done the work and can therefore relax with the knowledge that it will be taken care of.
The microcosmic work of one witch is a part of the healing done by all. I wish that all who practice a sincere form of the Craft would look upon others as a family for that is what we are. Families can be separated by miles and lifestyles, but they are still connected. So are witches. Like it or not. We are children of the Goddess and therefore are under Her tutelage. We can live in harmony in the Craft and we must strive to do so.
Doreen Valiente, in her book Witchcraft for Tomorrow says: "You have a right to be a pagan if you want to be." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article No. 18) states that everyone has the right to freedom of "thought, conscience and religion." Ms. Valiente has made a great contribution to the religion of Wicca. And she is right. The freedom to worship as a pagan is anyone's, and we each should be tolerant of another's choice.
If we are drawn to the concept of the Old Religion, then we should learn all we can and explore all avenues of research. A coven is not necessary for a practicing witch; there are many powerful and learned solo witches who practice alone either by choice or because of isolation from possible covens due to geography. Wicca provides for all the voids of religious confusion if there is an attraction to the Craft. The Circles and rituals and Sabbat celebrations provide for the physical and psychic senses. The spells and divination encourage the mind to grow.
The side-effect to starting on any new path, is of course, the written works which may or may not be available. Once the interest is piqued, the path is clear. Witchcraft provides growth and that is the key in any pursuit; to grow within yourself and to know your own potential. And like any learning pursuit, you can plod along for a time without really feeling a part of it. Then one instant flashes and you realize that you have been a part of it all along, and it is this instant that enhances your entire existence. It may take incredible patience, and seem like a great deal of work. But one day something washes over you and the understanding flows. This is what happens with religion. For some, the feeling hits the first time they expose themselves to a religious philosophy or event. Others may take years to feel as though they finally have answers.
The Charge of the Goddess has many beautiful passages. But perhaps, the most important passage of all is: "For I am the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe. And thou who thinkest to seek for me, 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, thou wilt never find it without thee."
The witch knows that she or he must find the answers within and so enters the Circle with an open heart and an open psyche in order to communicate with all of the aspects of the Self and to direct those aspects in their manifest forms.
The eight words of the Wiccan Rede are the only dogma of the Craft. If the witch, in daily life, can continually follow this law then he or she is, indeed, a powerful witch. These words however, must be kept in mind not only in one's actions toward other people, but must be part of one's thoughts as well. All negative or evil–be it thought or deed–will come back threefold and must be worked out at a future time. Witches do not want to deal with return negativity, so few generate it. As with all balancing systems, if a human is inclined to good or virtuous behavior, then this, too, will return to the sender.
Contemporary witches, in these times of hurry and pressure, find themselves in tune with the Morrigan or Great Earth Mother. This entwinement with nature and the natural cycles of the seasons, Sun, and Moon, gives witches a sense of harmony. It puts us in tune with our own body as a microcosm and allows us to experience that microcosm in relationship with the macrocosm.
It is this relationship that concerns witches the most. The knowledge of what lies behind the mundane world allows us to know what we must do to enhance our physical existence and to ensure that our mistakes are not repeated. This is the essence of the Craft; to be in touch with our fellow humans, to get in touch with the lunar and solar cycles, and to return to harmony with Gaia. The Witches Wheel (Sabbats) are completely structured around the changing of the seasons and the solar leaps. There are eight yearly Sabbats-four Greater Sabbats and four Lesser Sabbats. The summer solstice, winter solstice, vernal equinox, and autumnal equinox make up the Lesser Sabbats. The Greater Sabbats are Imolg (Candlemas), February 2nd, Beltane, April 30th, Lughnasadh, July 31st, and Samhain, October 31st.
The twenty-eight day lunar month provides the witch with a cycle in which to practice the arts. The Sabbats are festivals for sharing and celebrating, while the lunar Esbats are a time for healing work and psychic development.
As the moon has three faces, so does the Goddess. The Maiden aspect of the Great Lady corresponds to the waxing of the moon, the Mother aspect to the ripe beauty of the full moon, and the Crone aspect to the waning moon. The Goddess rules over all. It is from Her in the Morrigan that we come and to her we return. The God is, as well, represented in more than one manner. The god of the Sun is the power of the seasons without which we could not exist. He is also represented as the Horned God of the forest and of the hunt, stemming from a time when humans were reliant on the earth and Her creatures as well as the seed, root, and bud. Representations of the Horned God existed millennia before the Christian Devil. Therefore, the Pan of paganism cannot be the Satan of the Christian belief.
There is another factor involved here. To worship or build a religion around Satan, one must believe in Satan. This, witches do not do! Bad deeds stem from the system of karmic checks and balances and not from the powers of an evil creature or mock deity. Those who practice Satanism or "celebrate" an inverted mass or Black Mass are considered by witches to be very wayward individuals. The very crux of our faith tells us that we cannot harm another person nor can greed take over our use of the elemental power for which we strive. It is simple–we would be writing our own misfortune. Wicca is a loving life in its own right and we do not need to parody another.
Because of the tie that witches feel to Earth, one would not find many witches, male or female, who are not outspoken activists for ecology. Our concerns are great. Gaia will not withstand the punishments that the human race has imposed on her. She is breaking down and if we don't do something right now it may be too late, "... and physicist Max Bjorn's painful assessment will have been proven true: that Nature's attempt to evolve a thinking Creature on this earth has failed."
As a parent, I have a grave responsibility to my child to try to ensure that she has a clean and stable environment even after I am gone. This is a responsibility that I take most seriously. Just as our children are learning that it is not "cool" to smoke, so must we teach them that the Great Mother is not to be enslaved to humankind's purposes. We must learn to live in harmony with Her for She is our provider, and if we destroy Her, we destroy our selves. There are many who feel that this is the reason for the great return to the pagan religions. To get in touch with Gaia and ourselves is one way to reverse the damage that has been done.
The striving toward a greater solo or collective psyche is the basis for the witch's work. In addition, to disperse the power raised by the psyche is the purpose of ritual. The at-one-ment of ourselves with our universe is a way to achieve the power we need to do the work required. And this work cannot be achieved as readily in an unbalanced world.
Stewart Farrar, in What Witches Do concludes his book with his feelings of the Craft. "... I find its symbolism beautiful, its ritual satisfying, its tolerance (and indeed encouragement) of individual attitudes civilized ... and its successes impressive. For me it offers a practicable synthesis of the needs of the individual; the interests of his fellow man, and the meaning of the universe."CHAPTER 2
THE WITCH AT WORK
A witch's magic circle is a deliberately created space, which–once in place through ritual–becomes a "part of all worlds–attached to none." It is sacred to witches who use it as a magnetic energy containment field.
There are two very unique things about being within the magic circle itself. The first is that everything matters within its circumference. The second thing is that the atmosphere that fills it completely should be one of perfect love and perfect trust. Everyone must provide a piece of the harmonic puzzle that is the circle. The greater the atmosphere of the circle, the more powerful and intense the work becomes. Yet, between the working times in circle, there is a great deal of love and laughter. Pure water or wine is sipped as everyone relaxes and rejuvenates themselves.
It takes personal energy to build a circle and to maintain the power there. This is hard work–be it done by a solo witch or a coven. You must build it by pouring all you can from your own store of energy and everything you do in the psyche will, of course, manifest itself in the physical. Therefore, fatigue and thirst are understandable physical side effects to the expenditure of power. Every ritual should be seen to in as great detail as is possible, but the standard rule of thumb is that the greater the work required, the more prep time and personal wellness is required from the witch.
In every circle I have cast, I always have complaints of the room being too hot at the end of the rituals. I explain to every complainer that the area outside the circle is normal room temperature. Invariably they have to experience this effect for themselves and it is enjoyable every time to watch them. The portal is opened for them to step through and the look that crosses their faces is worth a thousand words. Not only have they worked hard, but now they are presented with a clear example of the physics involved in the metaphysical world.
Excerpted from Of Witches by Janet Thompson. Copyright © 1993 Janet Thompson. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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