Sunday, May 29, 2016

To Dare...

The Pagan Experience - What is it that you “Dare” to be? Does risk factor into daring? Is “Dare” a noun, or a verb? Use this month’s writing to dig a little deeper into what this topic means to you, both at the levels of the mundane and the spiritual…….

My life went off the rails this spring. Just after Imbolc, I decided to leave my partner of several years. This entailed a lot of huge changes - a move, different job requirements, and impact to my coven. This precipitated months of transition in which I found a new home and a new job.

This is why I haven't written anything for The Pagan Experience so far this year, until now. This topic is perfect for a return to the project.  I was terrified to leave, but I was more afraid to stay. I knew, within the core of my being, that I wasn't living up to my fullest potential. 

One day, I snapped. I began to pack, and when I had a few days of supplies together, I left. I had no plan and nowhere to go. All I knew is that I could not stay in that home for a single moment more.

This is how transformation occurs - when our dissatisfaction with the known becomes stronger than our fear of the that moment, change is possible. 

For me, this journey has been very rich. I reached out to friends and family, who kindly assisted me. People opened their homes and their hearts to support me during this difficult time, which I deeply appreciate. People lent shoulders to cry on and listening ears. Learning to ask for and accept help with grace is a big lesson for me. 

In these three months, my life has utterly transformed. I have reclaimed myself, my body, my daily routine, my friends, and my interests. I am rebuilding my world, and it is a beautiful one. 

But essentially, connecting with the power of Air, the ability to dare to create change, is what has made this journey possible. I had to look within and remember my own power. I am a witch. I am a shaman. My job is to bend and shape reality to my will, in service to All That Is. How then, could I justify languishing in an abusive relationship? I could not. 

I had to dare to leave. I had to dare to leap into the unknown. I had to dare to take the first step, and to continue putting one foot in front of the other, even though I didn't know what was coming next, or even where I was going. I had to dare to call upon my community for help. I had to dare to sit with my emotions as they went through the whole gamut of trauma, shock, loss, anger, frustration, rage, sadness, melancholy, and acceptance. I had to dare to reclaim my dreams. I had to dare to work magic to bring those dreams into being. 

Daring is a multi-layered endeavor. In order to dare, we have to believe that change is possible. We have to realize that we have the power to create change. We have to know that we deserve something different, something better. We have to give ourselves permission to wield that power. We have to be willing to risk failure, to risk defeat, to risk uncertainty, to risk vulnerability. We must dare to trust our own power, and the support of our communities, our families, the Divine, and the forces of Nature herself. 

Daring is, in short, the essence of being a magical practitioner. It is the beginning of our journey through the elements to work magic. In my view, the winds blow over us and fill us with inspiration. We are then inspired to dare to use our power in our highest good, and the highest good of all beings. 

All hail Air, sacred breath of the Gods, inspirer! All hail the winds of change that fill us with daring!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Significance of Coven Membership

What does it mean to belong to a coven? What are the rights and duties of coven members and coven
leaders? How does it all work? These are questions every new Pagan has, or ought to have. In the beginning, we don't know what we don't know.

So you want to be in a coven. What does that entail? First off, be aware that every coven is different. We run the whole spectrum from British Traditional to Radical Faerie and everything in between. Some covens are quite structured and others are more loose. But the essential experience of a coven is inherently one of commitment and structure. Of hard work and dedication. Of unity and connection. Of study and practice. Of celebration and devotion.

What is a coven, then? A coven is a unified group of magical practitioners dedicated to working, celebrating, learning, and growing together in the Old Way, which is another way of saying that it's a group of followers of an Earth-based spiritual religion. But it's more than that. When one goes through the process of initiation, one is bound to the initiator. Our karma becomes entwined. It is a serious thing, and not to be undertaken lightly. So to join a coven, first of all, is to willingly connect yourself with your coven leader and with your fellow members. This bond is sacred - we must enter it in perfect love and perfect trust. A coven is a spiritual family.

Witchcraft, along with other types of magical traditions, has a structured application process. This is intentional, and quite necessary. Usually, one must first complete a formal written application. After that, there is normally an in-person meeting, either with the coven leader(s) alone or with the whole group. Some groups may have more steps, like attending "outer circle" events (aka open to the public).

Witches generally are asked to study for a year and a day before they are eligible to join a coven. This allows time for people totally new to the Craft to get a basic practitioner-level foundation that enables them to be a constructive participant in group rituals. It also allows time for the prospective member to learn about the specific tradition and ways of their prospective coven.

Most importantly, though, this year and a day of study is a trial period for both the Seeker and the coven leader(s). During that time, the coven leader(s) will be watching the Seeker to see how they conduct themselves at events, in training, and in relations with fellow coveners and the coven leader(s).

Speaking as a coven leader, I can say that we surely all have different criteria, but some things are true in general. We want to know if this prospective person is trustworthy, honest, respectful, and willing to do the work. Is this person willing to listen to guidance? Will this person listen to constructive feedback? Does this person have the necessary level of commitment to complete the training and truly learn the information? Most importantly, perhaps, is the matter of the prospective covener's level of self-knowledge. Does this person know who they are and what they want? Are they clear about their intentions with the group and with their personal path? Do they take responsibility for themselves and their actions? Can they clearly communicate their needs and desires? Are they willing to engage with conflict resolution? Will this person do their share of contributing to the group financially and emotionally? Do they have a spirit of curiousity, generosity, helpfulness and gratitude?

The prospective covener surely has many questions as well, some of which are bound to be: who are these people? Will they be kind to me? Is this a weirdo cult? Do they have something that I want in terms of knowledge and experience? What do they want from me? Do the beliefs of this group match my own? What does the training program involve? What happens at coven events? Do I belong here? What are the financial commitments involved? What are the time commitments involved? Do I like the other members of the group?

All these questions and many more are answered during this year of study. At the end of that time, if both parties are ready, the prospective covener may move forward into initiation and membership in the group. This does not mean that learning and growth stop. Much like in martial arts, the first level of initiation is only the beginning. Depending on the coven, there may be structured training for another two years or more. Generally, this first year of training and subsequent initiation entitles the covener to attend rituals and events.

Many witches choose to remain as individual practitioners forever, which is a perfectly valid choice. There is nothing lesser about this choice - group leadership is NOT for everyone, nor should it be. Focusing on one's own practice, one's own home, and one's own family is plenty of work for a lifetime, and is quite fulfilling. The majority of witches fit into this category.

Others are interested in leading rituals or in someday leading their own group. Depending on the structure of your prospective coven, all of these choices will be honored in different ways. Some covens do not allow coveners to lead rituals - the leadership is responsible for that task, though generally everyone in the group plays a role. Some covens have shared leadership, in which there is one overall coven leader, but individual rituals can be led by a rotating cast of qualified coveners. Other groups are quite communal - the Reclaiming tradition, for example, co-creates and co-leads rituals.

Prospective coveners have a responsibility to find out what their prospective coven's policies on leadership are, and to clearly communicate their interest or lack of interest in leadership to their prospective coven leader(s), or at least, their knowledge of such at the time. Coven leaders have a duty to clearly communicate the coven's policies on prospective leadership, including how this is handled in general, along with the timeline and the expectations of a prospective future leader.

The timeline for becoming a ritual leader is dependent on the particular coven's process, but it is safe to say that it takes a while. One does not walk in off the street and create a ritual. One does not take three classes at the local metaphysical shop and create a ritual. There is good reason for this - the powers that we raise in ritual (and here I'm mostly referring to the collective energy of the participants, along with the elementals and possibly the Divine - remember, this is real witchcraft and not TV - we do not raise demons) must be handled properly. The ritual leader is responsible for the experience of the participants. There is a structure and process inherent in ritual, and it requires thorough knowledge in order to plan and perform it safely and correctly. In order to do that, one must also be a totally solid magical practitioner, able to ground and center, raise energy, shape that energy to a goal, release the energy, then re-ground and center and release all the powers that help us create sacred space. This all takes a great deal of time to learn, practice and fully embody. There are no shortcuts in magic.

The timeline for becoming a coven leader is even longer - one must not only be a solid practitioner and be able to create and lead group rituals, but one must also be a mature human being. That means that one must be able to create and sustain healthy relationships, set and maintain healthy boundaries, have excellent self-care, live a healthy lifestyle, and have a relatively stable life. In addition to all that, one must have a deep knowledge of our faith (past and present), the processes and principles of magic, a deep and real relationship with the Earth and all the powers that live here, and an excellent understanding of the Universe and our place within it. For covens that are part of a tradition, a prospective coven leader must also have an in-depth knowledge of the history and practice of the tradition. They should be known to and approved of by all tradition leadership, in addition to their coven leader(s). Most important of all, a prospective coven leader must be called by the Divine. Truly, experience, training, and an initiation does not a coven leader make. Only the Divine can do that.

Coveners have a right to fair and ethical treatment by their coven leader(s). This includes things like: empowering and positive leadership, wise counsel, and good quality instruction. Coven leaders(s) should be dependable. Coven leader(s) should never exploit their coveners emotionally, financially, or sexually. A good coven leader will see the potential for your best self within you, and help you to bring it out. You'll know you've found a good coven leader when you feel that you can tell them anything, including your hurt feelings or issues with the leader him or herself. A good coven leader states and enforces their boundaries with compassion. A good coven leader is supportive and kind. A good coven leader sets goals for their coveners, and holds them to it for their own highest good!

In turn, coven leaders should be able to depend on their prospective coveners to show up on time, be prepared for events and classes, help with ritual set-up and clean-up, do the homework, sustain daily practices, contribute to the group financially, and generally behave in a respectful and grateful way to other coveners and the coven leader(s).

Remember - coven leaders put years and years (often a lifetime, or multiple lifetimes) of training, personal and professional development and investment in a great many tools, supplies and events into their vocation, all for minimal or no financial return. Coven leaders are a lot like martial arts masters - we fight on the spiritual plane rather than the physical, but the similarities are striking. Coven leaders master their skills deeply and pass them on to the community, for the good of all and largely for the love of it, in service to the Divine. Coven leaders put heart and soul into their work, and that incurs a debt that can never truly be repaid. In Japan, the debt of student to teacher is called 'on', and that burden is carried for life. Likewise, coven leaders are karmically bound to and responsible for their coveners for life. Everything that you do reflects upon us, for good or for ill. It is a sacred relationship, and like all relationships, it is a two-way street.

In my Clan of the Wildlings, seekers must email me with interest, fill out a written application, have an in-person meeting, then attend a year and a day of training, during which time they may or may not be invited to attend rituals. They will be invited to and expected to attend our public events, as well as public events in the community. Seekers are expected to have certain base skills like woodcraft and Yoga, or to begin gathering them, as well as a base level of physical fitness. Upon successful completion of the first year of training, seekers will be eligible to join the coven and attend rituals. In year two of training, coveners go more deeply into practice, learn shamanic techniques, and learn how to craft and facilitate rituals. In year three of training, coveners do a project of personal specialization (akin to a master's thesis), and only then are invited to lead group rituals, if they are ready and interested in doing so.

Our tradition is one in which a solid foundation of healthy living and daily spiritual practice are built before we go wild with shamanic practice. It is a discipline and a lifestyle. It is not for the faint of heart, or for the casually curious. We will challenge you to practice excellent self-care. We will challenge you to get serious about your spirituality and infuse it into your daily life. We will challenge you to do this for real, to go out there and get wet, get dirty, get cold, get hot, suffer just a little and revel in the bliss quite a lot!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The God in the Wild Wood

Or, another way of thinking about the World Tree for we lovers of the Horned One in his aspect as Cernunnos. Io kernunno!

“At the Sacred Centre, in the Grove of all Worlds, He sits with legs crossed beneath an ancient Oak. Entranced, connecting the three worlds Earth, Sea, and Sky and the worlds behind the worlds, the god and the Great Tree are One, His immense limbs widespread, stretching into distant sky and starry space. His massive trunk, spine of the Middleworld, is the heart of the Ancient Forest around which all Life, all worlds turn. His limitless root web growing deep into secret earth and Underworld. Above him the great turning circles of Sun, Moon, and Stars. All around Him subtle movements of the leaves in melodious, singing air. Everywhere the pulsing, gleaming Green awash in drifts of gold and shimmering mist. Beneath Him soft moss creeping over the dark, deep, moist of spawning earth. 

At His feet the great Cauldron from which the Five Rivers Flow. Through the forest stillness they come, whispering wings and secret glide, rustling leaves, and silent step, the first Ancestors, the Oldest Animals, to gather around Him: Blackbird, Keeper of the Gate; Stag of Seven Tines, Master of Time; Ancient Owl, Crone of the Night; Eagle, Lord of the Air, Eye of the Sun; and Salmon, Oldest of the Old, Wisest of the Wise leaping from the juncture of the Five Springs. 

He welcomes them and blesses them, and they honor Him, Cernunnos of the nut brown skin and lustrous curling hair. The god whose eyes flash star-fire, whose flesh is a reservoir of ancient waters, His cells alive with Mystery, original primeval essence. Naked, phallus erect, He wears a crown of antlers limned in green fire and twined with ivy. In his right hand the Torq of gold, testament of his nobility and his sacred pledge. In his left hand the horned serpent symbol of his sexual power sacred to the Goddess. Cernunnos in His Ancient Forest, His Sacred Temple, His Holy Grove, Cernunnos and His children dream the Worlds.”


Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Festival of the Runes

Day 1 of 9 informal altar

Official altar, showing offerings of bourbon and sausage.
Making up our own festivals is one of my favorite parts of tradition building. In our tradition, we use runes as our system of symbolism. To honor that great gift, I've created a Festival of the Runes.

I began with the old festival of Walpugisnacht:

"The festival of Walpurgis, a night both of revelry and darkness. The nine nights of April 22 (interestingly enough, the modern festival of Earth Day) to April 30 are venerated as rememberance of the AllFather's self-sacrifice upon the World Tree Yggdrasil. It was on the ninth night (April 30, Walpurgisnacht) that he beheld the Runes, grasped them, and ritually died for an instant. At that moment, all the Light in the 9 worlds is extinguished, and utter Chaos reigns. At the final stroke of midnight, the Light returns in dazzling brilliance, and the bale-fires are lit. On Walpurgisnacht, the dead have full sway upon the earth; it is the ending night of the Wild Hunt. May 1 is the festival of Thrimilci; the beginning of Summer. Thrimilci is a festival of joy and fertility, much like Ostara; however, most of the Northern World is finally escaping from the snow at this time."

When I dug a bit deeper, I found that Walberga (or Walpurga) was a Christian saint canonized in CE 860 who was credited with Christianizing many Germanic tribes. This saint's day was used to create a celebration that coincided with the Pagan Beltane celebrations. A classic move by the medieval church - distract people from their nature-based ancestral faith with pageantry.

For our celebration, I wanted to lose the medieval Christian overtones and keep the timing. Nine days of celebration to honor Odin and his discovery of the runes during the Wild Hunt of spring felt right to me. What we do is light a candle in the window to guide Odin to us. We create an altar honoring Odin and the runes. Each night, we make offerings to Odin, like mead and meat. We sing the song of the runes, then read nine passages from the Havamal.

I really enjoyed it. This is a simple celebration, and I really liked focusing on the wisdom of the Havamal. It's pithy and surprisingly relevant in the modern era. We can all learn to take care of business and be a good member of the community! Hail Odin!