“Witchcraft Today–60 Years On”

witchcraft-today-60-years-on

 

Witchcraft Today–60 Years On is an anthology of written work gathered from various expert sources. Pagans, Wiccans, Fae, Druids, male and female all contribute information regarding their path, beliefs, and journeys. The reader is given a nicely rounded-out account of how witchcraft has developed in the 60 years since Gerald Gardner’s seminal work.

The first chapter gives us a succinct look into Gardner’s Witchcraft Today (1954)and its development. Following are chapters on  Alexandrian Witchcraft, Seax, Eclectic, Dianic, Hedge, and Egyptian traditions. There’s even a chapter on the future of Witchcraft as an ever-growing entity. What may sound like a boring subject is made fascinating by the personal, heartfelt accounts of each of the contributors. Their devotion is inspiring, and their knowledge and intelligence captivating!

The final part of the book is devoted to personal accounts of various adherents who were forced to take a circuitous path to their calling in the Craft. The stories of those who began in controlling Christian religions resonated with me the most.  As a child, I remember feeling intrigued by talk of Witchcraft and the occult, even though I was taught to fear it. I was fascinated to learn of others who felt the same pull between 10-14 years of age, but were more courageous than I. Some of them followed their heart at an early age–I waited another 20+ years before I had the courage to do so.

Recently, I have allowed my Craft to wane since I moved across country and most of my supplies are still in storage. Reading this book has fired my enthusiasm to get back to something that brought me so much comfort and empowerment as I recovered from my Patriarchal roots. The chapter on Hekatean Witchcraft showed me where my next path lay. When I first started studying Witchcraft in 2011, I was drawn to Hecate. I was born in the dark of the moon and it is my favorite time of the month. Samhain is my favorite holiday and Autumn my favorite season. I am fascinated with the world of the dead and beyond. I was informed only older women can be devotees of Hecate, so I chose someone else, but it never felt right. Now I realize I can embrace the patron who feels right to me and I am excited to do so!

This book is for anyone who is curious about Witchcraft and its various paths. It is faith inspiring to read of how others live in accord with the earth and its spirit. And it can fire up anyone whose interest has waned or wandered.

Witchcraft Today–60 Years On is available as an e-book or paperback for a very affordable price. (In fact, it is the first e-book I have read entirely on my Nook, something I have been viciously opposed to till now.) It is brand new from Moon Books and edited by Trevor Greenfield. You can find it through the publisher’s website or  Amazon.

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Guardians of The Watchtower

It is almost 3:30 AM on the morning of September 27, 2011. The new moon is less than two hours away. Why should I care? Because I have been studying Wiccan/Paganism for the last couple of months and the phases of the moon are very important. The last few days before new moon are considered ‘the dark of the moon.’ A dark time for witches. Some consider it a time for dark magic–if the need should arise. It is ruled over by Hecate(pro. HE-katae), the crone goddess. If you wonder what she looks like, think about every Halloween witch or cartoon witch you’ve ever seen. She’s old, with a pointed hat, broom and cauldron. The pointed hat symbolizes the upward spiraling Cone of Power (which many witches seek to obtain during their circle rituals), the broomstick symbolizes a sweeping away of the old, and the cauldron symbolizes transformation. Why are these things important at this time of year?

All Hallows Eve is the Pagan New Year–beginning after sundown on October 31st and continuing till sundown of November 1st.  Samhain (pro. SOW-en), the Pagan holiday that coincides with Halloween, is Gaelic for ‘summer’s end.’ The harvest is complete, winter is beginning. Pagans at this time (much like modern people on December 31) reflected upon their physical mortality and the nature of change and transformation in the cycle of life and death. It is the most important time of year for a pagan and the most psychically charged. The veil between the living and the dead is believed to be thinnest at this time so the spirits of ancestors and loved ones can be honored. It’s not a time to worship Satan as witches don’t believe he exists. The pentacle they wear (whether right side up or upside down) symbolizes the 5 elements from which all things exist: earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. The upside down pentacle characterizes the second degree witch who must come to recognize her dark side during this time–much like Luke Skywalker.

Back to the phases of the moon. Every phase has various characteristics that must be taken into account. New moon is used for personal growth, healing, or blessing a new project or venture. Full moon is used for banishing unwanted influences in life, protection and divination. The waning moon is for banishing/rejecting things in life we no longer want–like excess weight or negative habits/emotions (if hair is cut during this time it will take longer to grow out). Waxing moon is a time to attract things into our lives like prosperity, abundance, or magic. Since I am awake (I went to bed at 9pm last night only to awaken bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 2am)   I will likely go outside at 5:08am, light a black candle (to dispel negativity), and say an invocation to Hecate. Tonight I will likely hold a private ceremony and perform some candle magic in which I ask the Goddess for guidance in some aspect of my life.

As previously mentioned, I have only been studying this for a couple of months, but as I read over it I realize how surreal it is considering I was a Jehovah’s Witness only a year ago. I am enjoying the freedom of this new belief system and the ability to practice it wherever, and whenever, I want. I also find it empowering after coming from a patriarchal dominated religion. What I am finding most interesting, however, are the pagan roots even among Jehovah’s Witnesses. This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal as all religions have adopted pagan customs and holidays. But JW’s held themselves above the rest. The reason they don’t celebrate holidays and birthdays (or anything really) is because of their apparent pagan roots. Customs and traditions are considered taboo by JW’s because of their often superstitious origins (i.e. throwing the bouquet at weddings or the traditional toasts). I didn’t even have a wedding cake at my wedding because I did some research and found its origins to be steeped in fertility (like everything else at weddings) and I didn’t want any part of childbirth.

So for me to encounter, again and again, pagan influences within Jehovah’s Witnesses has been fascinating and enjoyable. October is a very auspicious time for JW’s. They feel this is the month when Jesus was enthroned as King in heaven in 1914. This is also supposed to be the month when Armageddon occurs. Is it an accident that this same month is the conclusion of the pagan year? I don’t think so.

As I cast my first circle as a practicing witch, I noticed something interesting. Part of the ritual is a calling forth of The Watchtowers. The witch faces east, west, south and north and calls The Guardians of The Watchtowers requesting assistance in the ritual to follow. Can you imagine how strange it was for me to use the term Watchtower in a pagan ceremony? It was surreal to say the least. This is not a new tradition, either. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (late 19th-early 20th century) was a branch of Freemasons who not only created the modern-day Tarot deck but also  had the custom of opening rituals by calling upon the Watchtowers to cleanse and purify a space. The Watchtower has long been considered sacred to Artemis (Diana of Ephesus)  who wore a crown in the form of a Watchtower. The founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, could not have been unaware of this since he was a Freemason, as the Cross & Crown image on the Watchtower bore out. (The term ‘Golden Dawn’ not to be confused with “Awake!” predecessor “The Golden Age” and Russell’s series of books, “Millennial Dawn.”)

A supposedly popular ritual of Satanists is the passing of the bread and wine representing Jesus blood and body. Only, they do not partake. Their ritual involves the rejection of the Host, the holy sacrament, Jesus sacrifice. Jehovah’s Witnesses (ex or current) will know what I am getting at, but for those of you who are still in the dark–the most important day of the year for JW’s is the Lord’s Evening Meal in which the emblems representing Christs body and blood are passed. These emblems are passed, untouched, by 99% of the participants. Roughly 10,000 of the more than 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses get to partake of the host. The rest practice a sort of subconscious rejection of the sacrifice since JW’s teach Jesus is the mediator for only those few who partake. Satanic ritual? Whether they are aware of it or not, it is.

These are only a few of the parallels I have noticed since my studies began, but they only convince me all the more that, as Solomon said,  “That which has come to be, that is what will come to be; and that which has been done, that is what will be done; and so there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9) Religion comes as an answer to societies needs, bringing with them the roots of previous belief systems. Supposedly, the predominant features of Jesus birth, death, and life can be found in myths that existed long before his apparent birth (see: Horus). Warlike religions were created while society was in its adolescence and conquest and war were rampant. Peaceful religions (or religions who were supposed to be peaceful [Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity]) came about as man evolved from fighting to thinking. And apocalyptic religions (i.e. Adventists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses) were born as a response to the increasingly secular world. But religion has failed to bring man deliverance and has only prevented scientific advancement. Society seems to be moving toward a more secular view which I applaud as the only way to evolve past the dark ages of religious intolerance. I hope for a time in which prejudice and judgment are replaced by peace and acceptance. This will only be possible when religion dies and spirituality takes over.

Imbolc

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I had my first pagan ceremony today! It was very interesting. A neighbor had lent me a book on Wicca, and while reading it I realized a very important day of the year was coming–Imbolc. Irish imbolc derives from the Old Irish i mbolg “in the belly”. This refers to the pregnancy of ewes. A medieval glossary etymologizes the term as oimelc “ewe’s milk”.  It marks the halfway point between the winter and spring equinoxes. Catholics call it Candelmas; North Americans call it Groundhog Day. Celts call it the Festival of St. Brigid (Brid). I decided to recognize the day in the traditional Celtic fashion–being Scotch-Irish and a redhead. Water and fire seemed to be the primary focus of the festival, so I collected 50 candles of various shades of red, white and green. Red being the color of the god, green the color of the goddess, and white the color of the ewes milk–which Brigid was bathed in upon her birth. I built an altar with candles of red and white, calla lilies (white), fragrant evergreens, chalices, a wand (borrowed from my neighbor), sea salt, a corn-husk doll representing Brigid, and melting ice within a womb-shaped trifle dish to signify winter melting into spring. It looked quite beautiful!

Five participated in the ceremony: my husband and I, my nephew, and our neighbor and her daughter. We read the mythologies surrounding the day and the significance of everything. Then said various blessings as we lit the last seven candles of red and white. Then we partook in Sabbat cakes (simple little cookies with a refreshing lemony taste), beer/mineral water, cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Celtic music played in the background and everyone seemed to find the whole affair very soothing.

Afterward, as my neighbor and I sat outside on the chill evening by the bonfire we had built in honor of the occasion, I asked her what she thought of the ceremony. She said she thought it was beautiful and thanked me for including her. She went on to tell me how important God was to her. I asked her, “What do you mean God?” The foregoing ceremony would be labeled positively demonic by the adherents of my childhood religion. Did she mean a Christian God? Her answer? “God is…” That was it. God is not small enough to be sheltered within the tight confines of Christianity. “There is a reason for everything,” she said. “I cannot accept that life has no reason.” So, God is above and all spiritual pursuits  honor  him. A very comforting belief. But is it true? It would be nice if it was. I, however, was raised to believe in a God that had such exacting requirements that few, if any, could fulfill them. So, if her beliefs are true, tonights ceremony was genuinely spiritual and acceptable to God. If my beliefs were true, we are all  pretty much damned–in a strictly non-hellfire sort of way. How do I feel? When I erected the altar last night, I was alone as my husband was in a welding class. I remember thinking that my old beliefs would find such an altar an open invitation to demons. I didn’t feel anything. My house felt normal. The altar felt right. So, either my previous system of beliefs is wrong, or I am so far gone my conscience  has been “marked as with a branding iron” (1 Timothy 4:2).  What do you think? Is God in all systems of beliefs or just one?