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Posts Tagged ‘Wicca’

 

I was in high school when I started to seriously study and practice any form of Paganism.  I was solitary except for a few experiments with an equally curious friend.  I didn’t meet any other Pagans in person until college.  The introductory books did not prepare me for the diversity in our community.  I remember an elder  looking down his nose at me when I blurted out a socially awkward “Blessed be!” in the local metaphysical store after I heard what he was talking about.  (We later had a very positive relationship.)  I vividly remember the first time I met a self-proclaimed Vampire.  (It was really uncomfortable.)

Although I never experienced witch wars or anything like that, I occasionally butt heads with people in the eclectic group I belonged to in Utica.  I came to realize Wicca did not resonate with me, but many people in the group embraced it or its teachings.  I realized I was a polytheist, a liberal reconstructionist with a blossoming interest (calling?  obsession?) in Irish culture.  I no longer embraced the Law of Three or the Rede.  Fueled by youthful passion, I wanted to remind everyone, whenever I could, that I didn’t always share their perspectives. While I seldom work a curse, studying Irish (and other Indo-European lore) revealed that it was part of those cultures and not demonized in any way.  Indeed, some of the earliest Irish curses are against inhospitable rulers who were not treating their people with dignity.

The moment you admit any of that, the moment you dismiss the Law of Three, the moment you stand in contrast to Wicca (by your ethics, your tools, your methods,  etc), lines form.  I don’t always mean for that to happen, but it’s been part of my learning curve.  It became painfully divisive whenever I shared my concerns of cultural appropriation when we planned eclectic rituals.   It was exhausting, but I loved everyone I worked with.  They were patient with me, encouraged me to share my own interests, and we always strove to be respectful, even when things became heated.  I’m really lucky that my first foray into the Pagan community was like that.  It could have been worse.  I know many people who refuse to celebrate with others because of really bad experiences.

Now that I’m a little older, I hope that I’m a little wiser.  I realize there is strength in our diversity.  It forces us to think and not become mired in tradition.  It’s good to see things from other perspectives.  Although I prefer to work with and learn from fellow Druids, polytheists, and traditional witches, some of the kindest, smartest, and most talented ritualists I know are Wiccan or influenced by those teachings.  While I find the sacred in the forests and rivers, I now understand that many find it in city streets.  I may be a vegetarian, but I know many who very respectfully hunt or lovingly raise animals, then offer some of the flesh.  I may lean towards hard polytheism, but I understand and appreciate that others see all gods as aspects of one spirit.

If you haven’t already, you should read “Undoing the Hard Work of Pagan Pioneers” by Bekah Evie Bel.  (Fair warning – it’s a Patheos blog update.  They always slow my browser.)  The author explores a topic that I and others sometimes think about.  How society sees us, and how we see each other, play a role in the novel I’ve been writing.  More people are talking about “rewilding” our traditions.  Some are calling anew to Aradia.  In our fight for rights and recognition in larger society, many worry that we have declawed ourselves in the process.  Why is it somehow possible for  Western people to accept that cultures in other countries make offerings, revere their ancestors, talk to plants, or dance while their gods ride them?  When it happens in other countries, it’s interesting, entertaining, it’s so  weird you can’t look away, it’s exotic.  When it happens in a Western country, especially in your own backyard, it’s suddenly alarming to many.  (Obviously, indigenous people live here, but the dominant culture tends to treat their traditions as exotic, too.)  Within our own Pagan community, certain practices will draw ire – you may even be ostracized.  Most people regard Paganism as a monoculture.  Heck, many people within our own community still view it that way, leading to culture shock and conflict upon encountering different traditions.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this…  just that I’ve been thinking about these topics.  I seem to come back to them every once in awhile as I reflect on my growth.  While there are definitely certain practices that must stay in the past based on laws and evolved perceptions of human decency, I think it’s important that individuals within the Pagan community continue to grow in a spirit of mutual respect.  We don’t have to agree all the time, but recognizing that not everyone will embrace the same practices or traditions is important to our preservation.  It’s important that we continue to learn about each other and come together to celebrate our diversity.  When we can do that, we’re better able to brainstorm and ameliorate issues concerning race, gender identity, cultural appropriation, elder care, and others challenging our growth. It’s part of why I’m involved in my local FAE Fest and enthusiastically attend PPD – to promote education so we learn about each other, celebrate our similarities and differences, and support each other.

I’m thankful to our Neo-Pagan elders and all they did to help us get where we are today, but I’m ready for certain stigmas to go away within our own diverse community.  The greater misconceptions are more likely to vanish from public opinion when we ourselves stop perpetuating the falsehood that we all believe or practice the same way.

 

 

 

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If you’ve been reading my blog for the past year, you know I’ve been working towards building an ADF Druidic community here in the North Country.  It started in June with a “coffee hour,” and progressed into a few study group meetings – the first in Watertown and the second in Carthage.  Our Facebook group has grown and, while discussion comes and goes, the interest remains.  We’ve even attracted someone right across the border in Canada!

Our next gathering is coming up this weekend and it is going to be a bit more than a study group meeting – I’m actually planning a ritual to frame the opening and closing of our time together.  The purpose is to celebrate the new season and honor the Nature Spirits for their bounty.  Since the group has been discussing Nature Spirits, it seemed right to make them the focus of this ritual.  We’ll also discuss our next planned ritual, Samhain.

Last weekend, I met with two of the study group members.  They have both been very involved since the very first meeting – I felt they were ready to help me organize something bigger.  The Autumn Equinox rite coming up is going to be very casual so as to “blend in” at the public park we’re meeting in.  Since it’s our first ritual, I don’t want it to be too involved.  Everyone is still learning and the less they have to keep track of, the better it will be.  All the same, I will be sure everyone is involved in some way so they experience a sense of ownership and I don’t feel alone on stage.  I’m hoping this only grows at Samhain.  We’re still working on finding a more private yet accessible location for that rite… and we have a possibility in the works.

When Weretoad and I left Muin Mound’s Autumn Equinox rite, he lamented the possibility of growing apart from them through forming a new group.  I worried the same thing.  We discussed it some as we took the long drive home.  I asked him if he would be happier if I abandoned the possibility of starting a protogrove, but he insisted that I shouldn’t because he knows it’s important to me.  I found myself asking why is it important.  Am I just looking to play leader?

Reflecting on my life, I always end up in such positions.  I dare say it’s natural for me.  I started clubs as a child, was elected president of a literature club in college, and was elected scribe in two Pagan groups.  I naturally like to facilitate and organize, especially when I see a desire in the community.  Someone has to step up and help make things happen.  I like to make things happen, even when it stresses me out.  (Don’t even get me started on organizing parties – I love doing that too…)

But it isn’t just my desire to make things happen.  There really is a desire in the North Country for something other than Wicca.  Not only that, but there’s a desire for open community.  Covens are hard to find, but ADF Druidism is all about opening its doors. This doesn’t come without some complications, but it’s necessary for such a group to be out there.  I think most Pagans are into security and safety, but not everyone is into extreme secrecy.  Some of us just want to come together, form friendships, educate/learn, work magic, and worship the Kindreds.  I read about other groves who meet every month – sometimes twice a month! – to share discussion, healing, and fellowship.  I used to be part of such a group in the Utica area and I loved it.  I still get excited to see the people I met through that group.  It’s not that I don’t get excited to see my grovemates in Syracuse – but I can’t see them as often because of proximity.  I miss being able to meet without it being a big day trip.  I miss being able to say, “Hey, who wants to meet for tea and casual Pagan discussion tonight?” without worrying about gas prices and getting home at a decent time for bed.

I truly hope this study group turns into something more.  Like my husband, I will miss seeing Muin Mound as often when the study group matures… but I know we won’t lose touch.  Hell, I’m already plotting ways for the North Country group and Muin Mound to get together!

At the same time, I’m not going to count my chickens before they hatch.  The study group still has a lot of work to do to become something more.  I don’t want to embark on the protogrove boat alone – I need to know everyone has my back and that we’re in it together.  Perhaps by next June, we’ll be ready.

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An image of the main ritual , a Keltrian Druid rite, from the Central New York Pagan Pride Day, 2012.  Photo by Weretoad.

We woke and dressed just before sunrise.  It was going to be a long day.  Skip and Sharon Ellison, the keepers of Muin Mound Grove, very generously offered us hospitality in their camper the previous night.  We fell asleep to the music of heavy rain and, indeed, the ground was still moist when we emerged, ready to travel to Liverpool, NY.  This year, my grove decided it would be fun to work together and show what our artisans are capable of, vend some wares, and provide information on ADF and Druidism.  When we arrived at the Long Branch Park in Liverpool, we immediately got to work setting up a massive tent.  I displayed my dolls, Phoenix hung her jewelry, and we showcased some of Dragonfly and Willow’s work.  Soon we were joined by other grove members, old and new.  It turned out to be a really fabulous day.

Snake Dance from the CNYPPD, 2012 – Photo by Weretoad

The festivities began and ended with a spiraling snake dance and very, very casual Wiccan rite.  I found myself swept away in a whiplash of joyful energy as we careened over the hills, through the tall oaks, and around the vendor tents.  Laughing, grinning, and even tumbling down the grass, we joyfully welcomed a beautiful day full of learning, music, ritual, and camaraderie.

Because I was vending, and I didn’t want to leave my husband alone too long*, I only attended one workshop – “The Tribal Origins of Sacred and Folk Music with John Hartford.”  I’m glad that was the one I picked.  He demonstrated several instruments and discussed the evolution of tribal music.  I also learned some interesting things about Celtic instruments that I didn’t know before.

I was very interested in attending the main ritual.  It was lead by a Keltrian Druid grove from the Syracuse area.  The Henge of Keltria seems more private than ADF, so while I was aware of this grove’s existence, I had never seen them or their rites before.  Having grown out of ADF, I was curious to compare styles.   There were some awkward moments in the rite, but I feel it was entirely due to being such a massive ritual.  They are very difficult to lead!  My favorite parts were the tartans worn by the members (showed a sense of community), their attention to lore, and their method of “recreating the cosmos.”  My new friend from the North Country, RavynStar, came and we discussed some ideas for the North Country Druidic Study Group.

Space set aside for a simple healing rite on the edge of Onondaga Lake.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012.

As the afternoon waned, our Senior Druid lead us to the edge of the park where the land met the Onondaga Lake, one of the most polluted lakes in the country.  There, we partook in a simple healing rite.  We offered song, spring water, and seeds to the local wildlife.  We took care not to offer anything that would cause further pollution.  The Senior Druid told the story of the lake which nearly moved me to tears.  The omens spoke of further work to restore this body of water and the land.  This poignant, quiet ritual was probably the most meaningful part of the festival to me.

Other highlights included hooping, drumming, and a belly dance performance by Adi Shakti.

My friend Parallax shows me her moves at the CNPPD, 2012 – Photo by Grey Catsidhe
My friend Jen joins the ranks of Adi Shakti and their annual performance at the CNYPPD, 2012.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe

As a vendor, I was pretty successful.  I felt comfortable taking some of the money I earned and shopping for Winter Solstice gifts.  Although it was a sunny day, the chill in the air whispered of winter.  The wheel is turning, and Pagan Pride Day always ushers in the Autumn Equinox.  It was fun to gather with other like-minded individuals, including old friends who I hardly ever get to see, and my grovemates.  The memory will comfort me when this region’s Cailleach spreads her cloak of blizzards, isolating us until the thaw.

 

 

* Bless my husband.  He gave his entire day to helping me vend without any complaint.  I’m a very lucky gal!

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"A Dangerous Method" movie poster from buzz.blastmagazine.com

Ever since I heard there was going to be a film featuring Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, I have excitedly anticipated “A Dangerous Method.”   I first became aware of Jung’s work in psychology when I applied some of his ideas to a paper on Frankenstein in 12th grade. I was dabbling with Wicca at the time, and his ideas about archetypes, the universal unconscious, the dark self, anima, and animus were just too delicious.  Delving into academic papers about his beliefs and discoveries at such a tender age was probably my first look into a more “academic approach” to spirituality.  It relied on comparative mythology and his psychological understandings at the time.  Truly, it gave me a real boost in understanding what many of the “Wicca 101 books” glossed over, and really made me start to consider such concepts rather than accept them blindly.  To this day, I still wonder about the universal unconscious; various duotheistic approaches to Paganism rely on archetypes; Witchcraft delves into the concept of the shadow self; and most of us, regardless of path, seek a balance between our masculine and feminine energies.  Jung’s ideas, while seldom  utilized by most contemporary psychologists,  have remained very influential in literary circles as well as our own religious community.  With that interest, I waited for the film’s release!

A few weeks ago, I learned that a small group of individuals had petitions our local theater to show “A Dangerous Method.”   You see, Mortensen graduated from Watertown’s high school and attended St. Lawrence University in the Canton-Potsdam area.  Despite that, many of his films aren’t shown here!  I was delighted that “A Dangerous Method” made it to our theater, albeit on a very limited release.  I fear it was not advertised very well outside of the above article and one movie poster near the theater entrance.  Weretoad and I were the only people in the theater at the latest showing!  I do hope it attracts larger crowds.

Unfortunately, when competing with an action film like “The Grey,” “Method” will prove uneventful to the average audience.     Directed by  David Cronenberg and written by Christopher Hampton and John Kerr, this film depicts the tumultuous relationship between Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Freud (Viggo Mortensen), as well as Jung and his patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).  It is very dialog-driven.  I found myself wondering if I would appreciate it as much if I hadn’t taken a couple psychology classes in college and read so much about Jung.  It almost feels like a niche movie – a story for true and wannabe intellectuals (I’m probably more of the latter). There are some interesting exchanges between the characters.  The tension between Freud and Jung, as the protege shows an interest in the mystical (telepathy for example), is rather intriguing.  Sabina occasionally discusses occult topics – the directions her “angel” has given her, for example.  There are regular exchanges of dreams and attempts to interpret them.  Jung comes to disagree with Freud’s insistence that everything is sexually-driven.  He seeks more spiritual explanations and believes religion cannot be fully divorced from science when healing patients.  To paraphrase, Freud says he doesn’t care if a patient worships one God, or others like Aphrodite – but he wants to leave that out of his clinical work.  An interesting thing to say when his office is littered with Pagan statues.  50 points if you spot the Venus of Willendorf!

Vincent Cassel, who plays Otto Gross, truly stole the show in my opinion.  His exchanges with Jung were the most fascinating, particularly because of his character’s quirks and how he interacted with objects on the set.  I’ve never seen Cassel do poorly in a film and I was delighted and surprised to see him in this story.

I can see “A Dangerous Method”  doing well in theaters that cater to such audiences – Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in my old hometown will likely show it to a large crowd in it’s usual two showings.  No doubt it will do well in denser, more urban cities.  All the same, I’m so glad it reached Northern NY and that I could see it.  It is a depressing but intellectually satisfying story.  It is worth seeing if you are interested in Jung, psychology, or just enjoy a good costume drama.

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Can’t get your head around the Oak/Holly King cycle? « The Bardic Blog.

I generally don’t consider the Oak and Holly King in my rituals. They don’t seem to be part of traditional Celtic lore. At least, I haven’t seen them anywhere… That said, the actual trees do play a role in our seasonal observations. Damh’s thoughts have been helpful to me in rethinking their place in modern Druidic lore. Perhaps I should think less of them as Gods, as seems to be the case in Wicca, and more as Nature Spirits?

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Fellow Druid and blogger, A Fundamentalist Druid in America, posted an intriguing and thought-provoking entry this morning. Entilted “Why I am not a Pagan,” he explores the many negative connotations associated with the word such as its historical usage, derivation, and the groups of people who use it to describe themselves. He quotes several well-known “Pagans” on the subject, such as Zsuzsanna Budapest, who are equally wary of the word. Although I honestly told him in his comments that some of his language could be too condescending to generate meaningful discussion on such a worthy topic, I encourage you to head over and read it.

So where do I stand on this issue? I will try to put my opinion into words as best as I can.

I always feel a bit awkward when someone questions me about my religious beliefs. The most accurate way to describe myself would be to say that I am an American Druid of the ADF tradition who ascribes to Celtic Reconstructionist methods and practices some traditional folk magic. If pressed for further explanation, perhaps by someone who practices another religion, I would explain that I am a polytheistic animist who practices magic and ritual within an Irish and occasionally Pan-Celtic cultural context. These are as accurate descriptors as I can think of, but my Gods, they are a mouthful aren’t they?!

Like many others, “Pagan” is just the easiest explanation for those on the outside looking in. Yes it is a terribly loaded word full of negative connotations both within and without the community it describes, but it is the best we have at the moment to refer to a general group of people who are not strictly monotheistic. Fundamentalist Druid states:

Because the word isn’t explanatory or even defining (hell, it doesn’t even state what side you’re on when it comes to animism, polytheism, monotheism…), and all in all, it’s an entirely extraneous word, only really of use in scaring Christians or feeling superior. Paul Beyerl hits on the same notion, calling it “a lifestyle word“. If somebody asks what religion I have, I can say I’m a druid if I want to be direct, or I’m a mystic if I want to take the long route, or I can launch into a shamanic litany of all the things I am and have been and could be, if I want to be obscure and truthful. But what can you or anyone assume about the addition of pagan?

I definitely agree that the word is not very helpful in truly understanding a person’s spiritual beliefs. (I don’t agree that it’s only use is to scare Christians or feel superior. For some, sure, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Truly, this could be said of “Druid,” “witch,” or “heathen” as well.) “Pagan” is very general to the point of being misleading. How many in the Druidic, Heathen, Recon, etc communities have gone to a “Pagan” meetup, CUUPs meeting, or moot only to discover that it’s really not some general, multi-path group at all! It’s really a bunch of people who, despite their insistence that they are an eclectic group, are really practicing some form of Neo-Wicca. One of the more negative aspects of the word is that it’s s0 open-ended and so inclusive that it’s almost implying eclectic these days. People who can’t or don’t commit to one path tend to embrace the title “Pagan” which can cause some confusion within and without of our communities. Those of us looking for something very specific can become discouraged by the word.

But without that word, what do we have? Some embrace the term “witch” which is fine and dandy, but that doesn’t cover all of us. Some “Pagans” reject that title for various reasons. Fundamentalist Druid suggests “heathen,” but that is generally used by people who follow a Norse path so, again, not useful to all of us. (If you’re interested in spiritual descriptors in Celtic tongues, do check out this link for the CR FAQ.) Not all of us are animists. Not all of us are polytheistic (I won’t even touch the hard vs. soft issues in this post). We’re not all magicians. “Mystic”, in my opinion, is far too broad because there are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim mystics as well. “Magician,” again, is not applicable to all and tends to make one sound like a stage performer. The way I see it, “Pagan” is the best we have right now.

I do understand that the title can be offensive to some. It could be particularly offensive to those who follow a hearth culture conquered by the Romans. It’s no wonder many Celtic Reconstructionists use names in their hearth language of choice! That said, linguistically, I’m a descriptivist. I know and accept the fact that language changes, thus the meaning of words change. It seems that a majority of us within the community are comfortable using “Pagan” as an umbrella term to describe a variety of non-monotheistic beliefs. It might not be the first word we choose to describe ourselves (heck some of us, like the Feral Druid, are still trying to figure that bit out), but it is helpful when it comes to organizing larger gatherings (Pagan Pride events), multi-denominational education (Cherry Hill Seminary), news (The Pagan Newswire Collective), or civil rights initiatives. When the meaning of a word changes and is accepted, it’s very hard to change – especially when a majority of the group it describes accept it.

Whether Fundamentalist Druid intended it or not, I think his post could be a springboard of discussion for this topic.  I was really inspired by his thoughts and wanted to share my own on this blog.  I hope some of you will share your own feelings, either in my comments section, his, or on your own blog.

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Video of Gerald Gardner

Not really Druidic, but interesting all the same. The blog “Pantheon” is doing a series on the history of Wicca and they included this video.  It’s actually a sampling of various interviews.  Gardner’s is the first. While Wicca does not really inspire me anymore, I’m still interested in its history and role in modern Paganism as a whole.  As I watched the video, I realized that I had never heard Gardner’s voice before.  It was interesting.  I still think he’s a creepy old man.  That has nothing to do with dancing naked under the moon.  While I’ve not done that, I have been nude at Pagan events and in the forest. It’s not the nude thing…  Something about his naughty little laugh.  It’s made the rituals I’ve read about in his Book of Shadows all the more vivid and, well, naughty seeming!

 

EDIT: I don’t know why the video is not showing up on the blog.  I’ve tried several times.  Click the above link and you’ll be able to watch the short video.

 

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