Saturday, September 22, 2018

Magic: Empowering the Disenfranchised or the Passive Aggressive?


   “No” is perhaps the most important word we learn as children.  The world will tell you “no” a lot.  You might lose a job, someone will break up with you, someone will disagree with you, a loved one may die, the crops might fail, you won’t always get what you want. We live in a world where “no” is common place. When our parents tell us “no” we learn how to manage disappointment, because you have to.  Sometimes a parent telling you “no” can be a kindness, because you are learning to manage disappointment in a circumstance where the stakes are low.  Not getting that toy or watching a movie, isn’t going to be the same as getting evicted because you cant adult.  Childhood is the training ground for adulthood, and learning how to manage the “no’s” life throws at you.  Not stopping them, but managing the circumstances of the “no” and your emotional reactions to them.  You have to learn how to deal with disappointment in life, its part of being an adult, its part of growing.

  So what happens when people fail to hear “no” enough, or develop the moral character to say “no” to themselves.  And what does it have to do with magic you might ask?  Well it has a lot to do with it.  Magic is a tool that takes the world’s “no’s” and turns them into “yes’s”.  And if you haven’t developed the discipline to say “no” to yourself that can become a problem. Because once people hear “yes” all the time they don’t want to hear “no” anymore, and they forget how to hear “no.”  That person who disagrees with your blog post, curse that bitch!  Cut ahead of me in the grocery store, curse their first born!  Not agree with some point minor point about the Gods and make me question my own beliefs, start a Witch War!

  I have heard it suggested that the consequence of learning magic outside of a mystery tradition calcifies us in a state of only wanting to hear “yes”.  Going through a mystery tradition, under the best of circumstances, forces us to deal with our own personal shit and grow.  Being someone who isn’t part of a traditional mystery system I would say working with my Gods as a devotional polytheist does very much the same thing - The Morrigan and gods like her won’t let you ignore your demons, not for long anyway. But it does raise an interesting thought:  Is magic more inclined to be misused when we become addicted to the idea of eternal “yes”?  

A mystery tradition is a structured set of “no’s” that gradually turn into “yes’s”.  Having an authentic dedication to one’s Gods is no different. And there is no coincidence that dedication is a word used in both cases.   A part of your dedication, your agreement with those deities is accepting the limitation that go with that dedication.  Those limitations could be a multitude of things.  For example a part of your dedication to a deity could involve accepting a geis, and not being able to cut your hair, not being able to visit a graveyard, or kneel, as just a few examples.  There is also the fact that Gods have their own agendas and sometimes they want us to learn or deal with something that we just want to sweep under the rug, and they have a habit of shaking our lives upside down until we listen.  These are all limitation, even if we don’t like admitting it.  They are all “no’s”.  And it forces us to accept the idea that “no’s” are necessary for growth.  

   Between working on a project about Taboo Magic and many of the classes I’ve done this year I’ve mentioned a time or two that I feel curse work has value and that it can be the last resource to the disenfranchised.   During one of those workshops we spent a lot of time going over the idea of stepping outside of yourself and your emotions to consider the work.  Are you in the right? Or are you just pissed?  If you step out of the emotions of the moment are your actions still justified?  Is this really just about me, and my “stuff”? Basically can you tell yourself “no” and distinguish whether the work is truly justified? Can you live with the consequences of what your work will manifest in the world?  

I really do believe curse work can be a moral thing. It can be restorative justice, and while I don’t believe in the Neo-Pagan version of karma I can respect the idea that sometimes we have to "be" karma instead of expecting the universe to fix a problem. 

The problem, of course, with that is most people are not familiar with curse work.  It usually plays out like this. 

Step 1. Person condemns cursing, says no one needs to do that, its wrong. How dare you suggest that is useful! 
Step 2 Someone get under their skin and pisses that person off. 
Step 3 They go from condemning such magical work to becoming Little Miss Curse Pants Supreme and they start doing magical things they have never done before and probably don’t understand the mechanics of.  

That can be a dangerous mix to all involved.  

   So in a discussion about such things during one class someone said something that got me thinking. In a kind of off handed joking way one person suggested when used for the wrong reasons curse work and magic in general becomes the art of the passive aggressive. Most of us laughed because, well, most of us know someone who has done just that; Or are aware of a situation where someone used magic as a petty way to manipulate a situation. Because magic works, plain and simple, and only you can choose if your Will is put to good uses or malicious ones.  

People seems to have the idea that universe or the Gods will cancel out “bad magic” that karma will strike down anyone who does anything harmful. Basically karma will handle the job of dealing with telling you “no” rather than us taking responsibility for our actions. And in my experience that just isn’t true. Magic is like a light switch, you flip the switch and the lights turn on. The electricity isn’t good or bad it just does what its suppose to do and goes where its wiring directs it.  You have to have a good foundation in your own personal ethics, instead of choosing to believe the universe will decide what is right and wrong for me.

   Another interesting point that came out of that conversation was that in the age of the internet where anything you want to find is at your finger tips that there are no more checks and balances.  Anyone and everyone has access to magical texts and can go off half cocked  and stir up trouble if they want to.  Back when one would have had to find people willing to teach them, there was the chance a group would turn you away. The knowledge you sought wouldn’t be accessible because, for whatever reason, the coven, trad etc didn’t feel it was safe to give you that knowledge. There are disadvantages to that model as well, but the point being, an unstable person would be less likely to have access to magical training. 

   So is having easy access to magical knowledge a bad thing? Does it inspire people who haven’t taken the time to perfect their craft or their ethics to just pick a spell off the internet and with the very best of intentions do magical harm? Does it make us addicted to the eternal “yes”?  Perhaps it does. I don’t have a good answer, but its something to chew on.  Because most of the time when people come to me with problems its another magician, Witch, or magical person is magically fucking with them.  And most of the time its not curse work, just good old best intentions and a lack of understanding that the person casting isn’t the center of the universe.  I think on some level it is healthy to understand that all magic is a kind of manipulation. Using our Will to shape reality is manipulating circumstances, and that isn’t always a bad thing.  It just requires us to take care, and think about what we are doing, think about what the ripple effect of our work can manifest.  Doing divination before any kind of work to get a sense of both if the work will be effective and what the larger effect will be is always a good starting point.  But the fact remains, for a lot of people out there, there biggest problem is not manifesting a new job or love, its dealing with other magic workers.   

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Baby Witches Then and Now

   Back when I was a baby Witch.....
   When I first started studying Witchcraft and Paganism we didn’t even have an internet connection in my house. Granted my parents were suspicious of the safety and moral uses of such things so they were pretty late in catching up to everyone else.  Barnes & Noble had a crappy new age section that was filled more with Christian spiritualism than anything of value to me.  So the only way to learn or get information was to got to local new age store.  That was the community stomping ground back in the day.  Its where you met other people with similar views, by which I mean a very broad spectrum of views and interests in the Occult. Back then you were just happy to find another person who practiced any kind of Paganism or Occultism.  If you were an Irish Pagan and found someone who worked with the Egyptian pantheon, in todays world you might not have much to talk about. But back then you were just happy to find someone, anyone, to talk to who didn’t think what you did was crazy.  The new age store I haunted was a little house converted into a store, down a winding dirt road, called Flying Unicorn Book Store.  The name and difficulty in finding it off the main road of course added to the appeal.  It took an epic quest down a mostly abandoned dirt road, to a Witch’s cottage no less, to seek forbidden knowledge….

   Or so it seemed at the time anyway.  Then Barnes & Nobles started carrying more books. Boarders opened nearby where I lived and they had not a shelf or a little shoehorned off area of a shelf, but shelves and shelves of new age books. If fact it stopped being new age anymore. There were actual sections, Witchcraft, Divination, Norse, etc.  If I had the patience to wait for the AOL running man to finish loading on the screen I could talk to people in chat rooms who identified as Pagan. Then there were webpage and so on and so on until you come to today where there is a plethora of information sharing, bickering, cliques, websites and books you can find in the online Pagan community.       
   You probably know all this already, or you might have experienced this shift yourself. There are a lot of positives to there being a plethora of information out there and being able to connect to people with the click of a button.  After all you are reading this blog post because of all those changes.  But my point is, that is not how I learned. I was primarily solitary when I started out, eventually working with a Celtic flavored group. We learned together, made stupid mistakes and learned from that too.  We all were mostly at the same level, feeling out our way as we went.  So I really don’t know what its like to learn what I do in todays world. Where finding people willing to teach you is easy, and so is finding information and people to connect to. 

   And what I hear the most from people just starting out is usually the same. They are afraid to
make mistakes. They see image after image online of Witches with their eyes closed in some ecstatic trance, sage billowing in the air around them, nails done, in their best Witchy outfit, and think they have to achieve that.  That if they don’t know enough about a subject they have somehow failed as a Pagan.  And to be honest there is a lot of what I’m going to call "Noob -Shaming" out there online.  Even big names in the community getting annoyed that someone new is asking them an annoying question, that they “should have already known”.  We don’t do a good job of supporting those just finding this path.  Being the entranced person in those pictures who knows all the secrets of the universe should not be the ideal people are striving for. Because no matter how long you have been doing this, you are going to make mistakes. You are going to fail. Or do something dumb. I have, plenty of times. And you brush yourself off and keep on trucking afterwards, you tweek and learn from it.    

  A couple of years ago I went to a public ritual a local group was hosting in New England, and as part of the ritual they sang the quarter calls. Everything went well as far as a I could tell. But after the ritual one of the women who had called the quarters was off away from everyone else at the drum circle crying her eyes out. When I went over to see what was wrong she explained she messed up on the words. She had practiced and practiced and she still messed it up and it ruined the ritual! Mind you I hadn’t even noticed anything went wrong at all. I didn’t know what words were or weren’t supposed to be said and I told her so, and that I had messed up far worse in front of far more people.
  At another event a woman came up to me after a workshop and asked me what she was doing wrong. She had only been a Pagan for a few years and there was some very difficult things going on in her life, including a custody battle that her ex was currently winning. She felt that it was all happening because she wasn’t a good enough Witch. If she was better at her craft then bad things wouldn’t happen to her. I assured her that wasn’t the case.  Being Pagan for twenty something years hasn’t stopped me from having to deal with bad things in life, its changed how I reacted to them and tackles such things though.
   At a Pagan Pride day I did a talk about speaking with the Gods and how that can be different for different people.  Afterwards a woman found me at the booth I was vending at and we talked for hours. She felt relieved hearing other people talk about their experiences during the workshop, that she had never heard her Gods speaking to her yet, but wanted to. And that she had never asked anyone for help, or how she might do this because she felt like she would be shamed for “not being able to do what all the other kids seemed to pick up on naturally”.

   The point of a spirituality, whatever version or flavor you adhere to, is to help your build a connection to the divine and help see you through dark times, and to help you appreciated the good times.  The goal is not to be a Witch who oozes spiritual power and nothing bad ever happens to because the powers of the cosmos have opened up to reveal themselves to you.  Yeah sure talking to Gods is part of it, and you might be given meaningful and powerful messages. But that doesn’t mean you still don’t have to take out the trash, or scrub your toilet, or deal with a messy divorce. At the end of the day, what we do spiritually and magically is a tool to help up through life.  Bad shit is still going to happen, but you will have something to lean on, something to help you navigate through those times.  The most powerful magick, the most earth shattering experience you have with a deity, may be when your makeup is running and you are wearing jeans and a ratty t-shirt.  And no matter how much you admire this or that teacher, they have made mistakes too.

   I think we owe to the those starting out to say its ok to be broken. Its ok to be a mess sometimes. We’ve been there too.  Your spirituality isn’t about being perfect.  Its about loving and tending to those broken jagged pieces of yourself, seeing they have value and putting them back together to make something else.  And then maybe when you think you have yourself figured out you’ll take the pieces apart and do it all over again. Being a Witch, being a Pagan, isn’t about looking like the most woke person in the room floating through an aura of burning sage.  Real Witchcraft, real devotion to the Gods, is quiet and sometimes messy. It doesn’t require ritual robes or much of anything except yourself. And yeah sometimes you are going to screw it all up, and sometimes you wont. Perfect isn’t the goal and never was.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Voices in the Landscape

 Beara Peninsula

   As we packed for our second pilgrimage to Ireland I jokingly said to my partner that it was like we were packing for a trip to the Otherworlds. And after a moment he nodded and said “Well, yeah. We are.”  On the one hand my grandmother on my father’s side was born in Ireland, and grew up on a little farm in Mayo.  It is a place that has family ties and calls to me on that level. And on the other hand, it does feel like the Otherworlds in my mind. It is the place where the myths happened. It is very difficult to describe the awe I find in walking through the landscape of old dusty stories I have read and cherished, stories that have shaped my views of the Gods and my devotion to them. To not just walk the land but touch the stones upon it, breathe the air where the myth happened. I suppose it might be like going to Jerusalem from some people.  If there is a Mecca, a holy place for me, it is Ireland.

 Poulnabrone Dolmen
   My first trip was strongly centered on the Morrigan, as we were traveling specifically to sites connected to her. It deepened my understanding and devotion to her in so many indescribable ways.  It could be called an initiation, or perhaps a deepening of a devotion.  Even now I think of things in terms of “Before the Cave of Cruachan”, and “After the Cave of Cruachan”. Because I crawled out of that cave altered, different than when I crawled in.

   So as I packed for our second pilgrimage, facilitated through the highly recommended Land Sea Sky travel, I really didn’t know what to think.  Would this trip be like the last? I tried very hard to go into it without expectations. And as it turned out this trip was more subtle, but no less moving.  Our focus was on several of the Gods of the Tuatha instead of one single one. I felt the Morrigan often. Saw many hooded crows along our journey.  But this time The Morrigan was a background presence, there and powerful, almost as if she was stepping back, guarding the boarders, so that I might talk and connect to other things.

Tech Duinn, Donn's island where the dead
gather before moving on
   On the last trip I knew I needed to go into the cave. I can’t even describe the pull I felt, the utter glee and drive I felt, to dive down into that dark muddy cave entrance not knowing or caring what was in that darkness. Because I needed to be there. And that was that.  This time was a little different. The sites I hadn’t expected to connect with were all the ones I had the most profound experiences with.  What I also didn’t expect was how strongly Brighid and The Cailleach’s presence would come through for me on this trip.  What I love about pilgrimage is that everyone on the journey with us is there for different reasons, sometimes picking up very different things from the places we visit. Our journeys where all markedly different, yet we could travel the same road together, each finding what we needed. For some it was about connecting to ancestors, other to the Good Neighbors, for others The Gods, and for others it was the journey itself. 

   A friend recently posted online about how her practices the longer she has been Pagan have become simpler.  It’s something that really resonates with me.  I still do large public rituals, and they can be very moving and powerful.  But in my own personal practice I find the majority of the things I do are simpler, and quieter than my Paganism ten plus years ago.  Sitting and connecting to a place, quietly communing with the Gods as I pour offerings and stand before an altar. 
These are the things that are at the center of what I do. We did a few simple rituals on our pilgrimage, one a ritual in motion as we hiked the landscape, which I enjoyed immensely.  But our focus was the land, the Gods and spirits, and connection. Ritual can give you connection. But sometimes just sitting quietly, being still and open, can be more profound than ritual. 

Tree with hundreds of coins jammed into the trunk

   Being of service to the lands and these sacred sites can also build that connection.  Everywhere we went we picked up garbage left behind. And we removed certain offerings that were damaging the sites. At many of the sites we visited people left pennies and other coins. I’m unaware of specifically why modern people have started doing this. Many of the places we found them it seemed like people left coins simply because they had seen that other people had done the same. Some were even wedged or jammed into the stones themselves or into the trunks of trees. So yes we removed these offering.  We went about it respectfully, and the removed coins were collected so they could be left in donation boxes at the sites meant to help with the upkeep of these sacred places. In a way these offering that were damaging these sites have become a new kind of offering, one that will sustain the land instead.  Once we removed the coins, the damage was very clear in many places.  The coins in particular causing corrosion and damaging the rocks. My favorite picture of the trip is one at the Cailleach’s stone with everyone’s hands around it as we picked up coins and garbage from the place. I didn’t get any profound messages from that site, although I know others did, but the message this place had for me was different.  For me it was less about me getting something, a message etc, than it was about caring for the place itself. The energy felt stagnant when we first arrived, like a damned up river, but when we left it felt like that river was flowing and peaceful again.  The feeling was so profoundly changed I held back tears. Later on that day at Derreen Gardens I found a hag stone as we walked one of the trails, and I took it as a positive sign from the Cailleach, acknowledging what we had done.

Working together to clean the Cailleach's stone

Stone circle at the top of Cashelkeelty
   Our last stop that day was visiting Cashelkeelty.  To get to the stone circles at the top, which also has a spectacular view that no picture can do justice to, we hiked through a forested area, past waterfalls, through rolling hills and through sheep fields. We stopped at different changes in the landscape and spoke of the different faces of Brigid.  And when we reached the top we found the highest point and made offerings to her and sang in praise of her. Afterwards as we explored the stone circles I touched one of the standing stones and experienced what could be called an aisling, a vision of sorts.  And I understood why the Morrigan had been there guarding in the background, because for this trip is was my time to deepen my devotion to Brigid, to acknowledge something that has been playing out for a long time.  Brigid has been a part of my life as long as the Morrigan has, may times the two operating in tandem.  It was a quiet moment, yet a deeply moving one for me. 

   Some years ago at a snowy Imbolc ritual in CT my friend has embodied the Cailleach in ritual, starting out stooped and veiled. In the ritual she drank from a well and pushed back her cloak transforming into Brigid. Acting as a vessel for Brigid she gave messages to those gathered. And what I experienced on Cashelkeelty echoed and reaffirmed the message from that ritual years before.  And I found a synchronicity in that both the Cailleach and Brigid were present in that long ago ritual, and that they both spoke strongly to me during my journey on this trip through the Beara Peninsula.     

   This pilgrimage was just as profound and moving as the first one. But I find it difficult to explain my experiences at times. To my co-workers I went on vacation and came back with lots of pictures “of rocks and sheep”.  Some of my Pagan friends have asked if we did lots of spectacular rituals. And my answer is no, but we did a few simple ones. Then what did you do for ten days? Well.....

   I sat and spoke to the land, I listened for the voices of the Gods in the winds, sought their presence in the places where land meets sea, looked for them on rolling and cresting waves, I sat and was quiet and listened, and all the world spoke to me in those quiet moments.

Whale Watch and a day connecting to ManannĂ¡n

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Divine Who-Ha Does Not A Moon Deity Make: Or Why the Morrigan is not my Moon Goddess

   Let’s just file this under pet peeve.  Because there are far better myths and modern misunderstandings to dispel about the Morrigan, like how she is not a sex kitten, not a goddess of sex, or a declawed war goddess. One of which you can find in a blog Morgan Daimler wrote: The Morrigan is Not My Sex Goddess.  But because this keeps cropping up and because a whole lot of people ask me about it or use it as a reason to conflate the Morrigan with other Goddesses I feel it’s worth addressing, at least in a blog post.

SO…repeat after me.

The Morrigan is not a moon goddess.

She never was, never has been. 

   And probably a lot of other goddesses you are calling moon goddesses aren’t really moon goddesses either.  Moon does not instant equal feminine any more than solar instantly equates to masculine.  It does in some systems and pantheons, but not all, and not even the vast majority.  I wrote a whole book about the solar feminine and why we need to stop putting our ideas of masculine/feminine and moon and sun into strict little boxes: Drawing Down The Sun.  Or current mindset is the result of the view points of those who pioneered the study of comparative mythology, namely that everything must be held up to the standard of Greek & Roman mythology and everything else was deviant. As well as some of those very binary view points making their way into modern psychology, like the works of Jung, which modern occultists tend to be a fan of and apply to things that they probably shouldn’t apply them to.

   Just because the Morrigan is female doesn’t mean she is instantly connected to the moon. The Irish didn’t really have Gods that fit the pattern of Greco/Roman pantheons where there were clear solar/lunar deities.  Seeing how often you have a sunny day, or see the sun shining without cloud cover in Ireland, I am not surprised. And if there are any deities in the Irish pantheon that could be considered for the title of lunar deity, all the ones that come to mind are male.  

   But the Morrigan is a triple Goddess, you say, like the phases of the moon! The concept of maiden, mother crone that we connect to the moon’s waxing and waning is a concept you can thank Robert Graves for in his book The White Goddess.  And yeah there are places where that model works, but in the Irish pantheon it doesn’t. Just like with the triple Brigid’s the three Morrigans are more like sisters than maiden, mother, crone. They are different aspects of a greater whole, or from another view point a triple set of sisters given one title who may not even be a unified being. So to connect the Morrigan to other lunar Goddesses based on the idea that she appears as a maiden, mother and crone trio doesn’t work either.
   So why do suggest working with her, or guises of her, during different moon phases, you ask? Well because the moon and her cycles, as well as the sun and planets in their dance around the universe, can be harnessed for magical purposes.  Working in conjunction with these energies and these cycle can result in some pretty successful magick.  And harnessing and aligning our work to that is always a good idea.  So it really doesn’t matter if I am working with the Morrigan, Oya, or an angelic intelligence, there will always be a preferable time to do certain work based on those heavenly bodies.    
   So please. Stop calling the Morrigan a moon goddess. And really look at the myths and attributes of other Goddesses too. A divine who-ha does not a moon deity make. Maybe look up the myths of some moon Gods to get some perspective. Rethink what you classify as relegated only to the masculine and feminine.  And don’t try to fit the Gods into boxes, they are far too old and vast to fit easily in them.  

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A Feast for the Morrigan: Creating Tradition Where There is None

   It’s a new year, and Florida is experiencing quite the cold front.  Perhaps nothing by New England standards, but the chill in the air, the novelty of seeing my breath as puffy clouds of steam when we have gone hiking brings back memories of other cold January nights making offerings to the Morrigan shortly after the new secular year.  January 7th as a Feast Day to the Morrigan is undeniably modern.  As far as I can tell the date can be traced back to Edain McCoy, who mentioned it in one of her books.  There isn’t really an explanation as to why she picked that date.  Perhaps there was a reason, perhaps not.  In the end though I don’t think it actually matters.  What I do find interesting is how we establish traditions where there are none. Whether something has been lost to time or the deity one worships never had a sacred day or feast day connected to them, how do we go about making one? And should we?

   There are many days you can connect to the Great Queen and her mythology.  Samhain usually being the most important one I honor Her on, but certainly not the only one. But even with Samhain one must ask themselves when is the correct time to celebrate?  Oct 31st? Or Old Samhain, which thanks to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar moved the day the ancients would have celebrated to somewhere around Nov 12th .  As modern practitioners we like things to be on an infallible schedule, one we can always rely on, but that isn’t always the case.  Even Newgrange with the sun’s light hitting the inner chamber on the winter solstice can be misleading.  Because while we can figure out the exact day of the solstice via all the convenience of modern technology, the sun actually shines into the passage tomb for several days around the solstice.  That begs the questions, which day or days did the ancient Irish celebrate or hold sacred?  Which is the right day to honor? Well the answer is simple. There is no right answer. 

   Perhaps in the end all that matters is our intentions, our reverence for the Gods, that makes a holy day sacred.  In more ways then one the yearly three days of the Morrigan’s Call Retreat have become Feast Days in honor of her.  Our main focus for the entire weekend is The Morrigan, connecting to her, making offerings, coming together in her honor.  As we approach those days each year I feel her stirring, pacing, readying for those who gather.  And I think of how our ancestors gathered to honor the Gods at different times, traveling perhaps long distances to honor sacred days, not unlike what we are doing in today's world with different Pagan festivals and events.  They may not fall on a holiday of the Wheel of the Year but in many ways we have create our own new sacred times.  And I think no matter how long The Morrigan's Call event goes on those days will remain sacred to her.  The second weekend of June will always be a time I must make offerings, call to her in ritual, because now she expects it. We have given those days to her, perhaps as much as some of us have given her January 7th to her, making it sacred with offerings and intentions and the dedication of returning and continuing the practice year after year.   

   Perhaps we should create more modern Feast Days to our Gods, and in the case of the retreat perhaps some of us have already create some without realizing it.  A Feast Day or holy day doesn’t have to be ancient for you to make it valid.  So if your Gods don’t have holy days that are remembered or recognized create your own. And if someone else celebrates that day alongside you, great.  If not, that is ok too.  

   So even though I know its not ancient, tomorrow I will pour whiskey, speak prayers, and wander into the wild places of the area I now live and honor the Queen. And its fitting in a way that as far as the weather predictions go, tomorrow will be the last day of chilly weather in my tropical home (at least the 40 and below kind).  A mirror to other days where I walked through snow drifts to honor her. For whatever reason on those past Feast Days feeling it was important to make my offerings outside, feeling the cold and sting in the air. Letting it be a reminder that cold and struggles can be weathered.  That winter and difficult times yields eventually to spring.  And even here in Florida with mostly eternal summer, by my New England standards, there are reminders, days kissed with frost to remind me that her blessings come on the edge of a blade.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Problem with Karma: Down the Rabbit Hole of Pagan Ethics

   Ethics can be a difficult topic when it comes to Paganism.  Mostly because Paganism is made up of so many different traditions, pantheons, and paths. We don’t really have a universal code of ethics.  The Rede isn’t something that is universally accepted and furthermore it is less than a hundred years old. It does not reflect the ethical constructs of ancients Pagans.  Ultimately the Rede is a suggestion, good advice and not something one can easily use as an ethical framework.  There are too many holes.  What interests me is how ancients Pagans dealt with ethical problems, how they sought to lead a good life.  But that is a whole different blog post all together. What also interests me is how we have gotten to the place we are as modern Pagans with our views on ethics. Because we seem to have some hang ups and carry overs. And they are fairly obvious, especially when we look at the concept of karma.    

   The first thing we have to accept is that what Neo-Pagans call “karma” isn’t actually karma. Karma in a Hindu context we have hijacked and bears only the mildest resemblance to what Neo-Pagan, and westerners in general, call karma. In Hinduism one’s karma (both positive and negative) is something that is worked through over the course of several life times.  It is not as we have come to think of it as “instant justice”.  To some extent we have merged the idea of the Threefold Law with what we think karma is to create our own uniquely 20th century Pagan concept. 

   We find the Threefold Law’s first appearance in 1949 in Gerald Gardner's High Magic's Aid, and has since been adopted as part of modern Wiccan liturgy.

“Thou hast obeyed the Law. But mark well, when thou receivest good, so equally art bound to return good threefold. (For this is the joke in witchcraft, the witch knows, though the initiate does not, that she will get three times what she gave, so she does not strike hard.)”

Blend this together with the Neo-Pagan version of karma and you have the modern Pagan concept of how the universe deals out justice.  If you do something bad, something bad will happen to you.  If you do good, good things come to you.  And this is usually used as an argument against cursing or hexing, even when protecting one’s self in a given situation would be the justified thing to do.  Striking back against an attack is often second guessed out of fear of causing bad karma or energy to rebound on us.  
   Furthermore the Threefold Law is often equated with the Law of Attraction.  While similar these don't really act the same way.  The Law of Attraction is a conscious thing.  If I use a certain herb or colored candle to attract a certain energy or quality while doing magick, the force of my will is directing it.  I am calling like to like consciously, and to some degree it is a mental que that I am using to get my mind in the right head space.  Something I use to attract certain things might not have the same connotation to someone else.  A criminal doesn't continuously want to be caught, or seek to manifest that result.  Quite the opposite, their will is focused on getting away with the crime. 

   But lets take a step back. What are the roots of this concept of universal justice?  Because that is what it all boils down to. The universe deals out good and bad karma, based on our actions.  Essentially we see the universe as dealing out justice. It’s a cause and effect that we have no control over and is outside of ourselves.  Sound familiar? If you were raised in an Abrahamic religion replace “universe” with “god” and you have exactly the same world view on how justice is handed out in the cosmos.  Whether its god or the undefined universe we see it as a universal law of restitution.  Like gravity it acts with impunity.

  Now there are some problems with this.  Like Morticia Addams points out “What is normal for the spider is chaos to the fly”.  What we perceive as justice often depends on our own point of view.  We are often heroes of our own narratives.  And sometimes justice and what is perceived as good or bad falls into a gray area.  If I do a spell to get a job and as a result land the job, have I done something the universe will punish with bad karma?  Maybe I might not have been the best candidate, maybe by bettering my own odds I am taking money and food out of the mouths of someone who needed it more. Yet from my perspective I didn’t do anything wrong, I brought something good into my life. So who is right? Will the universe from this mind set punish me or not?  And who is to say our human concept of justice, or good and evil is the same as the universe’s? Or the Gods' for that matter?

   I think in many ways we have taken a way of viewing how the world works from the religions of our youths and unconsciously carried it over to Paganism.  I can not say if this is necessarily good or bad, but certainly worth some reflection.  Certainly ancient Pagans had the concept of divine retribution and the gods dealing out punishment, but it wasn't exactly a universal thing. And at very least in Greek mythology punishments dealt out by the gods weren't always justice, but at times petty.  But ancient Pagans, regardless of culture, were very concerned with what it meant to live virtuously.  With what it meant to live a good life and what constituted right action.  The different is that it wasn't a force outside themselves, it was something that had to be sought within.  

  For myself I have to come to the conclusion that there isn’t a universal crime and punishment system that acts like a force of gravity. After all bad things do happen to good people. We don’t always catch the criminal.  And bad deeds often go unpunished.  I do think in many ways magick plays the role of evening the odds for those with no other avenue to do so, or for that matter have no other avenue of seeking justice. And I think that perhaps a consequence of having free will and agency as a being means that we have to seek out our own justice.  I’m not talking about taking the law into our own hands or becoming Batman.  But instead that is why we have laws as part of society, why we feel the need to wrap our minds around concepts like justice and ethics.  We must seek it out, its not a guarantee.    

Thursday, September 28, 2017

9 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Water Down Witchcraft

   For whatever reason this morning my Facebook feed was filled with some interesting links to “articles” about Witchcraft.  They featured pictures of women with their eyes closed, face frozen in a state of ecstasy and arcane power.  Like they know the secrets of the universe and its all moving through their bodies in one giant sexy Witch orgasm that reveals the secrets of the universe by osmosis.  And to be honest they are my biggest pet peeve, and you’ve probably seen them too if you are Pagan and have the internet. 9 Reasons Why You Are A Natural Witch.  8 Reason Why Being An Empath Makes You Wolverine.  5 Reasons Why Being Psychic Means You Are Destined to Save the World From the Rapture, and similar nonsense.  Harmless right? The problem is I see people accepting these things as legitimate statements about Witchcraft, and statements and images they need to attach to their identity as a Witch.  The images attached to these articles are always the same and project a certain stereotype a lot of modern Pagans feel they need to imitate or fit into.  I see a lot of folks who feel they need to always project an air of zen harmony, or buy all the “right” Witchy clothes to be taken seriously.  They have to be like the women in those picture that have the secrets of the universe whispered to them and are all powerful in their lives.  And that is not Witchcraft at all.  Sometimes the whispered secrets of the universe shatter you so hard you have to rebuild the pieces of your life as they lay on the floor.  Sometimes your best use of your craft as a Witch is when you don’t have all the answers and your life is anything but zen.  Sure I have ritual clothes but half the time I do ritual or magick in a T-Shirt and jeans.   

   Now don’t get me wrong. I like mindless internet fun on occasion too.  I’ve done those silly quizzes that tell you what Egyptian Goddess you, or which mystical animal is your Patronus (I’m pretty sure mine is Deadpool, or at very least Xena’s love child with Deadpool).  So aren’t these other article just the same thing? At first glance they might be, but how we portray Witchcraft both to the world and among ourselves is important.  Because just like words have power images do too.  Is this the image of a Witch we want to create and inspire? I think not.    

So I thought I’d put together my own list: 9 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Water Down Witchcraft

1. It Makes Things That Shouldn’t Be Taboo, Taboo:

  I’ve talked about declawing war gods, well this is declawing witchcraft - you need the dark too. Hexing, cursing, defensive magick, blood magick, and even warding to some degree are becoming increasingly taboo to talk about much less practice in modern Paganism.  These are practices that have been a part of Witchcraft and magick in general from its very beginnings.  Sometimes magick is about leveling the playing field and giving those with no other means of doing so to invoke justice or simply defend themselves.  If you don’t think ancient people used curses, there is a plethora of archaeological evidence that proves otherwise.  The curse tablets found at the temple of Sulis-Minerva are very interesting.  All I can say is don’t steal pants in the ancient world, or people will curse your ass.   These are all practices that you might not often use but are worth understanding the mechanics of.  You might need them someday down the road, or you might be on the receiving end and need to know how to handle it.  No knowledge is ever wasted.      

 2. Love & Light isn’t Balance:  
   Life is hard. And sometimes it just outright sucks. People go through difficult times and situations.  It’s part of living, and if we are lucky we can learn and grow from the darkest parts of our lives.  But when we portray Witches as always being in a state of all knowing bliss, it sends the wrong message.  It says that being broken is bad, not having life figured out is a failure.  It’s not.  Not even the gods have everything figured out.  The goddess Akhilandeshvari whose name means “Never Not Broken” is portrayed with her body shattered into many pieces. She is constantly reforming, and fitting the pieces back together into something new.  When we stigmatize darkness, and try to always be positive we will ignore the gritty difficult things we need to work through in life. Ignored problems, and not solved problems. And our spirituality of choice should foster us through such times. When we teach people it’s not ok to have these emotions people become afraid to show they need help or have life issues. 

3. Hard Work isn’t Sexy Buts its Reality:

 Master your craft. Mediate every day, do something magickal every day, do daily devotionals, whatever it is. Practice your craft, to master your craft.  There is no such thing as 9 easy steps to becoming a Witch. It takes work and time.  Being an empath, seeing spirits and visions arent some cool mutant power that doesn’t make you all knowing.  From experience, I can say being an empath means you need to really master your skills at energy work. Seeing sprits or feeling the emotions of other isn’t always fun or easy.  These are things that can take a lifetime to master, require daily work. 

4. Do You Want to Be a Dress Up Witch Or A Real Witch?:

Images of those ecstatic women should not be seen as empowering, sometimes Witchraft is doing what is needed on a dime and on a moment’s notice, it requires practicality and sometimes its done when you are crying and snotting on the floor and a real mess. It’s not pretty, and it’s not supposed to be.  You don’t need to look pretty to be a Witch, or have fancy occult clothes and jewelry.  Those things can be used to get your mind into a different state, but ultimately you are the source of power that drives your Will and magick.  It is you that are speaking to the Gods, not your fancy wand.  I like bling as much as the next Pagan but all the bling in the world isn’t going to make you better at your craft.  In the end dress up Pagans don’t integrate their spirituality into their life, it’s just to feel good.


5. Being a Witch Isn’t About Being All Powerful, or Always Knowing the Right Answer:

  This is kind of a follow up to some of the above points.  When our mental image of a legit Witch is based on these images of Witches dressed to the nines seeming zen wisdom from their every pore it attracts followers and students to the wrong people.  Because there are people out there who put on that exact image to draw people in.  People who want to manipulate others and can be dangerous.  The cult of ego is very real and when people put teachers on pedestals, it can be hard to take them off those pedestals when they realize they are just human too; when the cult of ego is harmful and not really about teaching but rather to make the predator feel empowered.   

   Remember that your teachers are human too, they make mistakes, they aren’t all knowing so don’t expect them to be.  Think for yourself, and recognize the cult of ego when you see it.  Witchcraft isn’t about having all the answers. It’s about finding them along the journey and making them a part of your life.

6.   If We Start Taming Our Craft We Will Start Taming Our Gods:

 I’ve talked about this in other blogs and I think to some degree this is already happening.  When we shun the darker aspects of life and ourselves we in turn try to make aspects of our Gods less threatening.  We refuse to see them from what they are.  We can see this with the general taboo nature of dark gods, or gods connected to battle.  Just because we are uncomfortable with battle does make Ares any less a war deity.  And even if we don’t go off to actual warfare now it doesn’t mean he can’t teach us valuable lessons.  It’s only the surface of what he, and other dark, Gods embody.  What it does not mean is somewhere along the way Ares was demonized and turned from a god of picking wild flowers into a mean god of war that we can now tame back into his hippy flower picking ways.  It’s just not how this works, it’s not how any of this works. 

7. Witchcraft Isn’t Something You Do, It’s A Way Of Living:

This is a big one. Being a Witch is something your become, and at the end of the process it’s a part of your everyday life. It’s not an alter ego you put on when it’s the full moon or just on Wednesdays.  After all the revelations, mystical rituals, classes, there is a point where you need to run all the threads through your own life and make it your own.  The first time you experience ritual or feel the presence of a God can be mind blowing, then the next step is to make it part of the ordinary.  You wake up in the morning, put pants on, pour whiskey to the gods, say a daily devotion, go to work deal with your boss, etc etc.  It’s not separate from your life.  

8. Trivializing Magick Diminishes It:

I find it really surprising when a magickal practitioners is shocked that their magick works, or that dealings with Gods can have consequences.  Yes, magick is real. Yes, the Gods are real.  Trivializing your magick is a sure way to either not get the results you expected or for you to have spent a whole lot of time and energy shaping you Will and energy to just make it go poof.  If you don’t believe it’s real, guess what, it’s probably not going to work that well.  After all your beliefs and thoughts are what is shaping it.  Trivializing the Gods can have far worse consequences, anything from you realizing how very real the deity actual when your life turning upside down or having them turn their backs on you. No one wants to talk to someone who doesn’t even believe they are real in the first place.  

9.  Magick Isn’t Attention Seeking:

  There is a reason why it’s called occult after all.  Magick is between you and the gods, and the forces of nature, spirits, or whatever else you might be connecting and working with.  It’s not entertainments, or a stage show.  It’s something that should improve your life and your relationships with the world around you.  It’s not 9 easy steps, or 9 signs that you are Dumbledore. What is your goal?  Why do you want to be a Witch?  If it’s to post pictures and memes to either make people afraid of you or envious of you, then you’ll just be the same person you always have been just with a veneer of crystals and arcane symbols.