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OUT OF THE BROOM CLOSET: THE WICCAN PHILOSOPHY
How should we be able to forget those ancient myths, that are at the beginning of all peoples ...
—Rainer Maria Rilke
It is nearly midnight. The "Witching Hour." And tonight there is a full moon. Clouds gather, and skate across the sky; the moon breaks through like a searchlight, huge, so clear you swear you can see the face of childhood nursery rhymes. You pass by the window, and the sudden light bathes you. Something is there, intangible, pulling at you as if the sea suddenly moved in your blood. Something ancient. Irresistible. You find yourself drawn to the door, stepping out into the silver-lit darkness. The wind tangles your hair, pulls at your clothes, smells of woodsmoke and rain and October leaves. You and a sleek gray cat with lantern eyes are the only creatures moving about in this wild darkness.
Having left the house so abruptly, you're without a coat in the autumn chill. Why, then, do you feel as if a fire is burning, somewhere in your rib cage, that your whole body is electric, as bright as the light that pulled you from the safety of your house, drawing you to this spot on the windswept grass?
Somewhere, a clock strikes twelve. You shiver, not from the cold but from a feeling of sacred and timeless connection to the Earth, and to everyone who has ever stood wrapped in a midnight wind, bathed in silver.
Midnight. A full moon. The Witching Hour. How can you hear those words and not feel something stir inside you? Witch is a word that conjures untold images and emotions in even the most steadfast disbeliever; a word that whispers of the ancient and the instinctual; a word charged with mystery.
I have loved the word since I was a child. Despite the common media stereotype of Witches as toad-eating, unbearably ugly, evil old women, I reveled in fantasies of living in a magical cottage by the sea, wearing fabulous flowing dresses, harvesting herbs by moonlight in my stone-walled garden, and stirring up wondrous potions in a cast-iron cauldron.
I was in my late twenties before I began to study what lay behind the fantasies. What I uncovered absolutely validated my imaginings, completely contradicted the stereotypes, and sent me on a spiritual journey that continues to unfold and enrich my life in countless ways.
Wicca, known also as Witchcraft or the Craft of the Wise, is a beautiful and sacred religion, centuries older than Judeo-Christian theosophy. Based on reverence for the Earth and all living creatures, Wicca emphasizes harmony, respect for the rhythms of nature, and the worship of both the male and female aspects of Divinity. At the heart of Wicca is the law "Harm None"; in its soul lies the understanding, expression, and tangible experience of magic.
I was drawn to study the Craft for many reasons. I had always felt different from other people, as though there was an energy turning inside of me that I couldn't name. I felt a kinship with animals, sometimes stronger than that I felt with humans. Storms thrilled me, and moonlight through my bedroom window was rapture. Feathers and stones and chunks of moss had to be collected, later to become faerie circles on my windowsill or in my dresser drawer. On summer nights, or when the winter sky was black and sharp as knives, the stars would draw me seemingly out of my skin. And I knew without reason and without a doubt that something truly wonderful was out there waiting for me, if I could just find the way to connect.
Growing up, whenever my family went to church (a sporadic event at best), I remember sitting in the pew and feeling the most tremendous sense of displacement, almost of despair, wondering what in the world was wrong with me. I loved churches themselves, their structure and ambience, the softly glowing windows, the candlelight, the hush of reverence. But as I got older, the strange sadness grew, and I realized it wasn't that something was wrong—something was missing.
Wicca helped me name that something. It wasn't enough for me to sit and listen to someone else tell me about God. I wanted to know God personally, to feel and sing and celebrate with Him, to speak my words and, most important, to experience the answer.
I began my studies as many modern-day Witches do—I bought a book, took it home, closed the drapes, and moved all the furniture around in my living room so that I could create the semblance of a magical circle. What I lacked in knowledge I more than made up for in enthusiasm—the sheer joy of ritually connecting to Spirit thrilled me to my fingertips.
I wrote and performed rites to celebrate the monthly cycles of the Moon and at Beltane danced around the Maypole (a dowel wedged between the floor and the living-room ceiling, with crepe-paper ribbons ... but I wore a fabulous flowing dress!). I lit candles to call in the spirits of the four directions, left offerings on my altar to the Celtic goddesses of fire, and earnestly tested the workings of magic. I learned that Pagan means "country dweller," not "godless." And, most important, I learned through firsthand experience that Witches aren't evil at all.
Are you a good Witch, or a bad Witch?
—Glinda the Good Witch, upon meeting Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz
It took me quite a while to drum up the courage to "out" myself regarding my spiritual path. Even today, there are times when I am cautious to reveal just what I'm all about. Not because I have a problem with it, but because so many others in the world do—anti-Witchcraft laws were still in effect as late as the middle of the last century! As Marion Weinstein put it in Positive Magic, her brilliant book on the occult, "A few years ago I could not have written this book and expected it to be read by the general public. A few hundred years ago, I could not have written this book and expected to live."
In light of the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Witches, it's easy to understand the fear, prejudice, and outright hatred sent our way. But I find it incredibly sad how many people in this day and age are so unenlightened, and even sadder still that so many, even when presented with the truth, choose to remain unenlightened.
That said, here's what Witches are not:
Green. Wart-covered. Able to turn innocent victims into mice, toads, or garden statuary. We do not drink blood, eat small children, nor do we sacrifice anything at the crossroads at midnight. We do not take part in any kind of sexual perversion, nor do we seek power through the suffering or oppression of others. We do not put curses or hexes on people, nor do we force, coerce, or magically control anyone against their will. We do not stick pins in dolls, put poison in apples, or raise the dead. We do not have magical "powers"; we can't throw fire from our fingertips, stop time, or conjure objects from thin air. We do not destroy or deface the symbols of other religions, and we do not worship the Devil (more on this, coming up). Most important, we never, ever hurt people, either physically, mentally, spiritually, or magically.
Now, I'm not saying there has never been a Witch who used his or her energies for harmful ends. Just as I'm not saying there has never been a priest who molested young boys, a lawyer or a politician who lied or cheated, or a psychiatrist or doctor who physically or emotionally abused a patient. What I am saying is, it is not in the Wiccan faith, practice, or belief system to bring harm to anyone, or anything, ever. Period.
So why do the lies persist?
We belong to a culture that thrives on fear, and the original corruption of the pagan faiths, which began as a power play by the medieval Church, has been kept alive and well to a tragic degree ever since.
There's a little Witch in all of us.
—Aunt Jett, in the movie Practical Magic
WHAT IS A WITCH?
Witches, for the most part, are fairly ordinary people; generally speaking, you can't tell a Witch simply by appearances.
What sets Witches apart, however, is how they live their lives. Wicca teaches you to look at the world through magical eyes, to see the fabulous in the mundane, to care for and tend your days with consciousness. At the root of Wicca is the word wic, meaning "to bend" or "shape." Witches bend and shape the innate laws and energies of nature through ritual, prayer, and spellcasting, to produce positive ends in the physical world. This is the essence of magic, and magic is the lifeblood of the Craft.
In Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Scott Cunningham defines magic as "the projection of natural energies to produce needed results." Magic is the focused use of language, will, action, and emotion, and the shifting of consciousness to achieve spiritual communion.
All religions practice magic in some form, through the rites and ceremonies performed by their priests. Wicca embraces magic as a spiritual practice for everyone, and Witches work with magic consciously and deliberately. Prayer is a form of magic. Chanting, singing, dancing, affirmations, meditation, visualization—all are magical in nature. A ritual or spell is merely a corporeal prayer, the magical aspects of which are made all the more powerful by the physical interpretation.
Witches use magic as a way to communicate with Spirit, to consecrate our ritual space, and to better ourselves and the world around us. Wiccan magic is natural and harmonious, a sacred and wondrous aspect of our faith.
The word religion means to "re-link," or "bind back." As a Pagan, or nature, religion, Wicca links us to the original concepts of deity by our earliest ancestors, the idea that God or Spirit resides in all things, and within each of us as spiritual beings. In Wicca, there is no separation between human and Spirit. Rather than some far-off, unreachable, omnipotent being, God is manifest in a hundred miraculous ways, in the day-to-day rituals of life as well as in the larger, more mystical patterns of the universe.
Wicca sees the Earth as a living Goddess, who blesses us and must be nurtured and cared for in return. Wiccans honor and work with the cycles of nature and the seasons rather than trying to dominate their environment. The Wheel of the Year, the Wiccan sacred calendar, is marked by eight festivals that celebrate the eternal circle of life, as witnessed in nature by the changing of the seasons and the natural cycles of birth, maturation, death, and resurrection.
Because of this deep connection to the Earth and her mysteries, natural lifestyle choices are common among Witches. Ecological issues are of great importance, as are social issues such as equality of the sexes and racial diversity. The feminist movement in the late 1960s had a great deal to do with the resurgence of the Craft and the Goddess religions, bringing a much-needed counterbalance to the patriarchal systems that have dominated Western culture for centuries. Though still bucking the tide in some regards, Wicca continues to make significant marks in the areas of personal and global responsibility, environmental action, and multicultural relations.
Wicca is a highly individualistic and experiential faith, with a strong ethical code based on moral and personal responsibility. There is no "confession" or absolution of sins by an outside authority; instead, Wiccans are required to face up to their actions, admit their mistakes, and set things right whenever they can. Wiccans also believe in reincarnation, which deepens their commitment to personal and spiritual growth, and to learning from all experiences.
Another aspect that differentiates a Witch is the practice of intuitive and psychic abilities. In the Craft, you learn to work with all the senses, and to become especially attuned to your instinctual voice through the use of divinatory tools. Many Witches focus on specific methods of meditation and achieving altered states of consciousness in their ritual and magical workings. Tarot cards, pendulums, crystals, and runes are tools commonly used by Witches to access the realms of psychic perception.
Unlike organized Judeo-Christian religions, Wicca adheres to very few set precepts or doctrines. Rather, there are certain beliefs held sacred by all Wiccans, from which the individual Craft traditions and practices spring. This lack of absolutes by no means indicates a lack of conviction; because Wicca's system of ethics comes from personal honor rather than imposed dogma, Wiccans are highly committed to "walking their talk" in all aspects of their lives.
THE PRINCIPLES OF WICCA
Three principles serve as the foundation for the Wiccan way of life:
The Wiccan Rede: "An ye harm none, do as ye will." In essence, this rule says do whatever you like, as long as it doesn't bring harm to yourself or to another. This is not an invitation to run amuck without repercussion. This principal requires a high degree of consciousness in terms of assessing the myriad physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences related to any particular action. In other words, this tenet says "Look well before you leap, and make darn sure you're not going to land on anybody else."
The Threefold Law: "What you do comes back to you threefold." Another principle of consequence, the Threefold Law is like the Buddhist notion of karma, pointing out the inevitable return of expended energy. This relates to physical action as well as emotional thought forms; kindness extended comes back magnified, as does negativity and ill will. This principle in particular governs the magic that Wiccans practice; no true Witch would ever put a curse on someone, or even consider performing "black magic," lest it come back to them three times worse!
The Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This is pretty self-explanatory and, as with the other two principles, puts responsibility for right action straight in the lap of the individual. The Golden Rule creates an environment of respect for everyone; most Wiccans have dealt with prejudice of one sort or another from the outside world, and so tend to be even more accepting of anyone or anything "different."
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Craft is its autonomous, eclectic approach to worship, encouraging followers to develop a personal religious practice, gleaned from one's own experiences, wisdom, and instincts. A sense of spiritual diversity is key to the Craft, as Wicca is polytheistic (meaning "believing in more than one God") in nature.
I've always said that God doesn't care what you call Him, as long as you call Him. Wicca gives you myriad names with which to connect to Spirit. The Gods and Goddesses worshiped in the Craft are as diverse as the people who choose them: the Sun King, the Green Man, Herne, the Lord of the Hunt, and the Triple Goddess of the Moon, who is Maiden, Mother, and Crone. There are also the Greek, Celtic, Norse, and Egyptian deities, and many more. Each is fascinating, mythic. Each has a specific energy and personality. In Wicca, who you worship and how you worship is a personal, sacred choice, which makes for a truly intimate bond between human and Spirit.
Wiccans respect the idea that different spiritual beliefs work for different people. In fact, many Witches add aspects of other religious systems, such as Native American Shamanism or Buddhism, to their rituals and practices. Others work closely with Catholic saints, angels, and Jesus Christ. Religion is the language of spirituality, and Wiccans are definitely multilingual!
Witchcraft is comforting. You learn that the night is as beautiful as the daytime, that the dark and the light are equal, that neither is better than the other ... that life and death exist beside one another, as a balance.
—Reverend Judith Laxer, Priestess of the Goddess, LunaSea coven
Another distinguishing factor of the Wiccan path is the acknowledgment, and even celebration, of Darkness. (Here's where the misinformed really go to town espousing the "evils" of Witchcraft!) Let me set the record straight. Darkness, in the Craft, is not the Devil or Satan or anything evil. It is night, death, the dark of the Moon before She comes round to new again; the understanding that for every creation there is an inevitable cycle of entropy. Wicca is nature based and, just as in nature, when plants die, compost down into the Earth, and serve to nourish new growth, the Darkness honored in Wicca is a natural part of life.
Excerpted from SIMPLE WICCA by MICHELE MORGAN. Copyright © 2000 Conari Press. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Foreword by Judika Illes
one Out of the Broom Closet: The Wiccan Philosophy
two Yesterday, Today: The Traditions of Witchcraft
three Heaven, Earth, and the Powers That Be: The Gods and Goddesses of
four A Year in the Life: The Wiccan Days of Celebration
five The Witch's Moon: Lunar Celebrations
six Casting the Circle: Sacred Space and Magical Tools
seven Elemental Magic: Working with Various Energies
eight Words of Power and the Power of Words: Creating Spells
nine The Structure of Ritual
ten The Rites
eleven Full Circle
To Learn More
Websites for the Wiccan Community
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Are you new to the old ways, if so then do not pass up the chance to read this book. Wonderfully written and as the title reads "simple" to understand. I wish this had been the first book I had read, it would have made learning easier. I have pages marked and highlighted that I refer back to. Bravo Michelle Morgan on a book well done.
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