Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Kissing the Moon: Myth and the Inner Forest


Metaphorically speaking the unseen parts of us and our life combine to form an inner spiritual landscape. Symbolically it is like an ancient forest filled with wonders, secrets, the hidden, legions of participants, the cycle of life and death, joy, pleasure, fear, terror, and much more. The analogy of traveling through this symbolic forest is a useful one for describing the spiritual journey and the process that we as Witches undergo in our Craft. At times the traveler may become lost, lose faith, or even give up when the spiritual sun of the forest descends below the horizon and the night takes hold.

 

Like any forest we have never traveled through, it is useful to know something of the area and its inhabitants prior to undergoing the journey. From the point of view of religion, this is what the function of myth does. It is through mythology that we know not just that there will be trials and tribulations but can garnish an idea of the shared human experience of these.

 

Tribal

 

I know that in this blog I often speak of Witchcraft in generic terms but there is a folly in it. The Craft I speak of is Western Contemporary Pagan centric heavily influenced by British Traditional Wicca and derived Traditions. As such, the Craft I often present is not representative of Witchcraft that falls outside of this umbrella. For example, the folk craft of Iberian Witchcraft does not in the least bit resemble these forms of Witchcraft. This is important to be aware of when not only reading this blog but when thinking in terms of mythology in regards to the Craft.

 

There are many Witchcrafts—Witches all. As a result there are many Witchcraft mythologies. To further complicate the whole matter, not only is each form of Western Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft different but furthermore so is each Tradition, each Lineage, and each Coven. What this means is that Witchcraft mythology is Tribal. It is locally experienced, expressed, and understood. This complex myriad of expression that is the human experience manifesting itself in the various forms of Witchcraft is a thing of beauty to behold.  

 

By learning the names of the Gods and Goddesses, allied spirits, ancestors, and other players and the stories of the myths of your tribe you can align yourself with the shared experience of the practice that you engage in. You can enter your inner landscape informed.

 

Universal

 

There are some shared human experiences that are more universal and so many themes and motifs can be found throughout not only the various mythologies of Witchcraft but throughout the world. Your various Tribal mythologies overlap the universal. They leave the specific realm of your group and touch upon the primal root knowledge of what it is to be human.

 

Where the Tribal myths inform us of the inhabitants of the forest, it is the universal that informs us of the general landscape. Sure the details of whether the center of the forest is a mountain, a tree, or other form of the axis mundi, is missing, but it does tell us that there is a center. We know that night and day come and go. The seasons change. Hunger exists. The primal emotions, such as fear and joy, are all present.

 

Knowledge of where and how your Tribal myths intersect the Universal will empower you. It won’t make the onset of spiritual winter any easier but it will tell you how to prepare for the season and not only survive but thrive through the trials it brings.

 

Traditionalist

 

Anyone that is part of group engages in the tribal. By simply being human, regardless of the group, you engage in the universal. The difference in Traditional Craft verses Eclectic Craft is not because of this. The difference is a minor one. It’s not about being told what to believe. Really it isn’t. From a practical standpoint is so that the group practice does not have to be reinvented every time we get together and we can instead focus elsewhere.

 

The difference mythically is that a Tradition has already done the work in regards to the mysteries they focus upon to see exactly where their tribal myths intersect the universal. There is a map. No it doesn’t cover the whole forest. However, in the specific context of the mysteries that the Tradition is centered around, and there are specific mysteries (vaguely) speaking, there is a path in the forest.

 

So ritual is the symbolic enactment of myth. By following the ritual praxis of a Tradition, the mapped out landmarks are the same and can be purposefully and mindfully approached. Not only is there knowledge of a ravine but we know that when you get there you will encounter a specific entity.

 

Traditional Craft is a group practice and so the specifics of the map are shared and can be related to. Your map when thus approached has a legend.

 

Eclectic

 

The Eclectic journey into the mysteries of the forest does not have a path, map, or legend. It is like picking a random spot to enter the forest and exploring the landscape from that point with only your feet and experiences to guide you. There is nothing wrong with this approach either. It just means that the individual must craft for themselves a consistent practice by which to use as the vehicle of exploration.

 

There are times when it is best to just set off on the journey. It means that you don’t have to wait. The life lessons learned are no less meaningful.

 

Balance

 

In truth, we are all both in some regards. As a Traditionalist, the parts of the forest and path that are mapped out for me are only in regards to the specific mysteries. Everything else is wandering through the forest. There are times when we all leave the path into a part of the forest not on the map. As Traditional Craft is a group practice only, everything we do as an individual in our personal work is throwing the map to the wind to carry away. At other times, any shared experience can bring us onto a distinct path.

 

By embracing both the tribal and universal, group and personal, the trappings of each is easier to avoid. Rigidly sticking to a map can make life stale and refusing to set foot in a part of the forest mapped out can deny experiences that could be the difference between living and merely surviving.

 

The reason that the Craft focuses upon orthopraxy is because there is room for the individual to interpret their inner experiences. The praxis tells us that there is a central axis in the forest, and the tribal may tell us its symbol, but the nature of that axis is the mystery for us to find out. The nature of the landscape is for the individual.

 

When the nature of the individual experience is not defined by the individual, the myth ceases to point towards a reference. At this time thinking becomes concrete. At the New Moon it is traditional to kiss the hand twice to the moon. Kind of like blowing kisses. One of the lessons here is that we should not confuse the hand for the moon. That is to say that the symbol should not be confused for the reference. In this particular example, we kiss the hand but the adoration is turned to that which the moon veils. This is why we focus upon the ritual of kissing the hand and leave the nature of the connotation up to the individual Witch.

 

Regardless of whether in this moment we are on a known path or lost in a labyrinth, the experiences of the forest are shared as the human experience. The only way to know what exactly lay in the forest is to set out. Go. Do. Explore. Live the myth of life, experience the forest, and come to know that which is hidden behind the symbol.

 

 Boidh Se!

 

-SM

 

“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My Witchcraft: Why I am a Witch




This blog is going to be a bit different than most of those that I post here. Yet it is relevant, I believe, to the whole of everything I have ever written here. I hope that you find it relevant to you and that it helps in some small way to bring context to this thing we call Witchcraft.


The Human Experience

My Witchcraft at the core is about the Human Experience. Specifically it is about my human experience. So at the core of my Witchcraft is the context of lifeour life. It is not a matter of adding meaning but of coming to understand the meaning that is already there. This is the crux of the reality of the mysteries that Witches are prone to talk about from time to time.
The mysteries can’t be explained or taught. Only experienced. Yet each of us has the ability to know the mysteries because they are shared by us. This is why it is said that Witchcraft has no secrets, only mysteries.
Since my Craft is about my experience of what it is to be human it has at its foundation the essence of what it is to be us.
-Biological
One of the big three things that all humans have is common is that we are biological.

Each and every one of us no matter how you dress us is a combination of flesh, bone, blood, and a whole mess of other things. This is one of those lessons in the practice of my Craft that took years to understand. It is one of the most important as well. Everything of this life is in the context of this fact.
 
The human experience is thus one that is physical. It is a shared understanding. I don’t need to explain what it like to feel hunger, we all have bodies that crave sustenance. We know what it is to hunger. As such, by mindfully engaging the biological and physical reality of our experience we likewise directly engage the mysteries tied to that shared experience.
One of the first things that I have students do is look at their diet. I don’t advocate any particular diet over another. It’s not about that. It is about choosing to engage the food we eat mindful of the physical effects it has upon our experiences. Literally our choice of diet can change us.
My Craft is one that purposely applies change by engaging the physical, the experience thereof, and what it is to be human.
-Symbols
Until fairly recently it was taught that the thing that separates us from animals is the use of tools. This is false. Humanity doesn’t have the sole us of tools as part of our experience. Granted it is a huge part but it isn’t exclusive. The thing that makes us different is that we symbolize.
The vast array of abstract human expression is mind blowing. At the same time it is a thing of beauty. Each and every meaning given to a symbol is the sharing of the experience that the symbol is tied to. Just as every symbol is multifaceted so too is our engagement of the symbol.
Just as my Craft is mindful of the physical, so too do I attempt to be mindful of the symbolic. It is one of the things that makes us human.
-Groups
There is no shared understanding without others. This is the third big thing that is shared amongst humanity. We are human only in the context of groups. Regardless of whether socially we are outgoing or not, our physiological identities are tied directly to the relationships we have with others in some shape or fashion.
Once long ago when I was seeking with a Coven, I was asked why I was seeking membership if I had already been initiated into a previous Tradition. What I said was, “It is hard to be a Priest alone.” The existential reality was that I had moved but the human reality was far deeper.
One of my brothers in the Craft is fond of the saying, “Witches vote with their feet.” It is about being decisive, mindful of your various relationships, and choosing to stay or go.
Existential Subjectivity
The rest of my Craft is subjective to my existential experience. In essence, it is mine. It is these things though that get the vote of my feet. The why I am here bit.
-Salvation
As I have said elsewhere in this blog, the only permanence to life is change. It goes without saying that life is full of joy, pain, ecstasy, fear, and the rest of the range of human emotion. In all of this, everything I have ever known is different. The world I knew as a small child is long gone. For that matter, yesterday is but a memory today. Many friends and family have come and gone through the cycle of life and death.



This impermanence brings with it existential dread in any of three ways. I will not claim that they are universal fears but I will say they come damn close. I am talking about the dread of death, oblivion, and separation. At some point, most of us have sat at some point in a place of dread of one of, if not all of, these three.


The Craft is my refuge. By directly engaging the mysteries via the praxis of the Craft the life context of these three things is experienced. The Craft allows me to experience the mysteries of death/oblivion/separation in the here and now. It is not always easy or pretty. Nor should it be.


-Duty


We all have a duty to ourselves. I can’t tell you what it is though. I can only talk a bit about its resemblances. You see it’s because it is one of the mysteries of life.




Our duty it to fulfill us. It’s a knowing. A knowing of the whole of the now. But it’s not something to be achieved. There is no goal or place to get to. We are already there and have been all along. It is our duty to realize this.


The Craft reveals. There are lots of things that people can say about the nature of the Craft, such as it being an experiential orthopraxis mystery religion. The result of which is that it reveals mysteries. It is what it does.


-Transgressive


The Craft exists on the fringe of society. Being Witchcraft and all this should be no surprise. We deal directly with the secrets of life that many would prefer not to. We do it on purpose too.


My Craft is transgressive. At times it makes me uncomfortable. Sobbing into a plate of food at a Dumb Supper is no picnic. Other times my heart sings in such ecstatic joy that I didn’t know it could. In both these ways, and many others, the practice of the Craft pushes the edge of my experience of the human experience wider.


To me this is what it is about.


-------------------------


Sure there are lots of other fun trappings of the Craft, and I’ve talked about some of those quite a bit, but this is why I am a Witch.


Boidh Se!

-SM


“Lost is a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”





Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Riding the Wheel




Riding the Wheel

By: Spanish Moss

 
Crossroad of Flesh,

Crucible of Death,

By Blood, Breath, and Bone!

 
Mirror of Stars,

Well of Abyss,

By Sleep, Dream, and Seen!


Flight of Vision,

Gate of Twilight,

By Besom, Bead, and Drum!


Rhythm of Tongue,

Utterance of Beckoning,

By Charm, Rune, and Word!

 
Fragrance of Ecstasy,  

Cup of Intoxication,

By Blossom, Root, and Leaf!

 
Swirl of Passion,

Rout of Mill,

By Sway, Shake, and Stomp!

 
Knot of Rule,

Tow of Seething,

By Measure, Cord, and Hiss!


Tine of Eight,

Brand of Five,

By Meena, Mona, and Mack!

 
Goat of Black,

Foam of Sea,

By Chalice, Blade, and Flame!


Monday, August 8, 2016

Which God?

Lucifer, Kali, Herne, Thor… our Goddesses and Gods all have one thing in common. No this isn’t a post about “All Gods are One God” or some other pan-deity argument. Nor am I arguing for or against such; everyone can enjoy their own theological stance in that regards as far as I am concerned. This post is about assumptions and why that matters.

With only a few exceptions*, the thing that all of our Goddesses and Gods have in common is names. Sure we also use a plethora of titles, and rightfully so.

I’m sure that most of you reading this are already nodding in agreement with thoughts of “of course it matters,” “it is only respectful to use their names,” and “duh, how else are they gonna know we are talking to them?” Beyond matters of practice though, it also matters.

It matters that we use names for a couple of other reasons though. Our orthopraxis nature has room within it for beliefs that run the gambit. We have everything from polytheists through monists on over to atheists and everything else in the cauldron of possible individual beliefs. Although this is true and perfectly as it should be, in my opinion that is, the fact that we use names in said practice shifts us into a different perspective in how we think about spirituality.

In doing so we force the conversation of theology and religion as whole to hold room for us. It isn’t always an easy conversation. Challenging others assumptions never is. As a Witch I’m a fan of transgressive religious practice and so this is perfectly fine in my book.

I’ll give an example. Last week in a conversation I had with a Religious Studies scholar the question was posed “can religious experience or a philosophical argument ‘prove’ the existence of God?” Here you see is where names matter. Because the question is in such stark contrast to how I think about my Craft my knee jerked. I couldn’t even start down the road of the meat of the question because we were not only in two different ball-parks but playing different games altogether. Almost without thinking, I forced the conversation that followed to include us. You see, my knee jerked and my mouth uttered before the brain thought it through. I asked, “Which God?”


In regards to the story, the conversation that followed was awesome and can best be summed up with the following quote, neither from me or said scholar, but wholly relevant to the place the conversation ended up:
“One of the most common misconceptions about the world’s religions is that they plumb the same depths, ask the same questions. They do not. Only religions that see God as all good ask how a good God can allow millions to die in tsunamis. Only religions that believe in souls ask whether your soul exists before you are born and what happens to it after you die. And only religions that think we have one soul ask after ‘the soul’ in the singular. Every religions, however, asks after the human condition.”

– God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World by Stephen Prothero
If you look at the base assumptions of any religion, you find will the questions that religion plumbs. One of ours is names. Knowing this you can extract the marrow at the center of the questioning; you can look your own beliefs square in the eye for scrutiny. There is a knowing that is accessable when you do so.

Boidh Se!
-SM


“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”

*Cause there are always exceptions in matters of religion, spirituality, and the occult.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Rite of Death

 
Beneath the canopy of the Stars of Heaven and the Moon’s almost full shimmer, I shiver from the cold trail of death’s wake and the chill of the Western wind up from the Isles of Annwyn from which it returns.

Kneeling in the damp grass before the shadow cast altar I pick up the incense I had laid out and hold the end to the flame of a candle. As I blow out the lit tip the smoke wafts it sweet fragrance about me invoking the memory of rituals past.

I place the incense in the holder before the picture of the deceased and watch as the smoke passes across the image. “Holy art thou ancestors of the Witch Blood, of kith and kin, you whom sit upon the Thrones of the Mighty Dead in the Halls of the Fated-folk, witness these offerings and heed the call to guide one of your own into your company ,” I say just loud enough for my own ears.  Then I toll the bell seven times, each chime shatters the silence in sharp contrast to the calm night.

The chalice is cool to the touch and drips condensation as I raise it in salute to the night sky before beginning to tip the contents upon the ground. The red wine splatters the grass and roots before the altar. The dark stain reflects the dim of the night sky as if it were freshly spilled blood. “Accept this offering o Mighty Dead, may it stir your memories in aid of this rite. Allow it to uplift you and the one who joins you now.” I invert the chalice and sit it back on the altar.

Then I pick up the small loaf of bread from its silver dish next to the photo. Holding it to before the altar, I rip at it, tearing at it with my hands as crumbles fall upon the earth. The last few pieces I sprinkle across the altar itself before wiping my hands against the sides of my robes. Then with my right palm gestured towards the altar I say, “Accept this offering o Mighty Dead, may it feed your power in aid of this rite. Allow it to sustain you and the one who joins you now.”

Stooping I grab an unlit black candle staged beneath the altar. I hold it wick to wick with the lit white candle. I watch the flame pass, growing in strength, mesmerized by the swirling of the dripping black wax as it commingles with the white. I sit the candle in its brass holder before the photo next to the incense and inverted chalice. “Accept this offering o Mighty Dead, may it illuminate your path in aid of this rite. Allow it to warm you and the one who joins you now.” I reach down and pick up the bell, ringing it seven times more.

Sitting the bell down I knock three times upon the altar and pronounce, “So mote it be.”


Boidh Se!

-SM

“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”

Friday, September 11, 2015

Where Witches Go and How to Get There!

There is a metaphorical place that is really a state of awareness in which those of us practicing Traditional Craft attempt to achieve. The idea is akin to one our ritual axioms where we say we are building our circle and temple space in a “time that is not a time and a place that is not a place.” This is also us talking about ourselves. We, our Craft, is designed to create our life about us, just like the casting of circle, a place that is not a place and a time that is not a time. In essence this state in which we aspire transcends but also permeates immanently throughout the entirety of our life—if we make it so.

Mythically this state of being is spoken of as the Witches Sabbat(h) unto which the Witches would travel. At the Sabbat they would metaphorically sing and dance the story of life and intimately, meaning on the personal level, enter into ecstatic congress with divinity. For those of you familiar with flying ointments and the practices of hedge-riding, I’m not talking about those practices at this junction but the whole of the Craft. On that note it is important to remember that our praxis and lore can have multiple meanings. The Witches’ Sabbat is one of those items that is also a symbol of the aforementioned state of being.

Reaching the Witches’ Sabbat is in one sense the same as being the time that is not a time and place that is not a place. The trick is getting to the Sabbat so that the Witch can create about them a life that echoes throughout the whole of existence as the indistinguishable marriage to the sacred. In this our praxis is the vehicle for getting there. This is the reason that Traditionalists stress orthopraxy, or at least one of the reasons.

In the story of the Witches’ Sabbat, Witches travel to the Sabbat by flying on their besom. Our practice, the Craft that we are the legacy of, is like the besom. The besom is our vehicle. Likewise, our practice is the vehicle that allows us to travel to the goal. For this to happen successfully the Witch must become adept at their magick or the besom will never take flight. Additionally, the Witch must come to know and trust the workings of the besom (read as our practice) in order to traverse the journey. In this the focus has to be on the flight and not the eventual destination, continually adjusting one’s heading, grip, and magick, or the Sabbat won’t be reached. This of course is all a teaching story.

Ultimately, the Sabbat is not there, it is here. It is right now, right here. The praxis is not a besom but it is the means. In time the illusions of place and time, and the metaphor, fall away. That is if the Witch takes refuge in the heart of their Craft. To do all of this, the Witch must climb upon the besom and make it their tool.


Boidh Se!

-SM

“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Beltane: Wedding the Divine!

It was on a Beltane roughly a decade ago when I first looked through the eyes of the whole of the universe as my own. This mystical experience isn’t the same as your run of the mill spiritual epiphany or ah-ha moment. It was all encompassing.

There is an analogy I like to use in regards to explaining the theologies that fall under the umbrella of the Craft. Interestingly enough the original idea came from talking with my son. It was “the talk.” By which I mean the talk where I had to explain that some people only believe in one God and that sadly many of them will refuse to understand who we are and what we do, and that they can and will be mean about it. He was perplexed almost beyond words. When he finally did speak he said, “But the forest has more than one tree in it.” Brilliant! That is all I could think. Needless to say the conversation continued for quite some time but that one analogy from the depths of the mind of my son has stuck with me.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but none are. A forest is full of many different trees. Some of which many Witches establish relationships individually with. This is spirit work. Polytheism. Animism. Other Witches don’t but choose to work with the wood of the trees. I like to think of them as wood workers like carpenters. These are those that touch upon the essence of the material that composes the spirits. Broadly speaking they like to throw around terms like the divine and the sacred in lieu of specific “trees.” Others like to study the forest and uncover the inner workings and connections of the whole ecosystem. Yet another group likes to focus upon the cycles of the forest. Most Witches though are way more complex than any one of these simplified and limited categories and instead mix it all up to include some I didn’t mention.

My Beltane experience all those years back trumps all of it. In one instance, as I was standing in a doorway watching it rain, I was each plant and animal in the forest, I was the essence that made the whole, I was the inner workings, I was each point in time throughout all cycles, I was the sky and earth below, I was each star and planet to include the sun and moon, I was the nothing in which it all sat, and more. Is this the same as enlightenment? No, not as commonly defined. It is more of a shattering of an illusion, a taste of the feast on the table.

This is what Beltane is about, at least from a Traditionalist standpoint. Beltane is when we are crowned the ruler over the spiritual kingdom. Custom and myths tell tales of the rulers of old being wed to the land at the beginning of May. Just as they are wed to the land we are wed to the spiritual land and crowned with the whole of the heavens as the rightful sovereign. Today is the celebration of the consummation of that union.

This is all speaking from the individual perspective though. Now take this idea and expand it to include the forest and see how each category approaches this point upon the cyclic myth differently, and how each of those applies differently to us.

Boidh Se!

-SM

“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”