Erotic Religion: The Body and Sex for Wiccans and Pagans

This post is part of the October Patheos Public Square on “The Spirituality of Sex.” Every religious tradition has rules—spoken and unspoken—around sexuality, and sacred texts come into play as these rules are navigated in dating and marriage. What does your faith tradition really say about the meaning of our sexuality and sexual activity? What role does sex play in the life of the spirit?


Witchcraft traditions such as Wicca are highly visible in the Pagan movement when it comes to sexuality and sexual activity. Though Pagan traditions in general see the body as a blessing, they hold a variety of views on what the proper relationship is between sexuality and spirituality. Wiccans and other witches, however, embrace the holiness of sexuality as a central religious principle.

“The Charge of the Goddess,” penned by Wiccan priestess Doreen Valiente (1922-1999), is a piece of liturgy so powerful that its influence has reached far outside Wicca into spiritual feminism, the sex-positive community, and contemporary Paganism as a whole. When used in ritual, the Charge is spoken by a priestess who is embodying the presence of the Goddess. She says:

And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye are really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise.…

Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. (DoreenValiente.org)

An ~11,000-year-old figurine thought to depict a pair of lovers. British Museum. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

An ~11,000-year-old figurine thought to depict a pair of lovers. British Museum. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen. (CC-BY 2.5)

Many Wiccans and witches believe that all things contain a primal energy or vital life force that moves within and among them. This energy is most easily experienced through sexual activity, especially when it is raised with spiritual intent. Through their sexual intimacy, practitioners can participate in a primal moment of creation: a moment when two divine forces or beings—imagined as a many-gendered God/dess making love with her mirror reflection; or a lunar Goddess and a solar God; or a genderless yin and yang, nothing and something—communed together in an erotic union whose vibrations continue to animate the universe.

Sexuality is a particularly dramatic way to experience the flow of life force, but for some Wiccans and witches, it is not the only way. Sensual communion with nature and nonsexual touch are also places where spiritual energy can flow between two or more beings. To emphasize that this embodied, intimate flow of life force contains sexuality but is broader than sexuality, I use the term eros or the erotic.

I first encountered the idea of the erotic as a spiritual force in Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance (1979). In the 1980s, this important book of ecofeminist witchcraft was many Pagans’ introduction to Paganism and Goddess religion, as well as to the idea that the body and sexuality are holy. In her introduction to the 1999 edition of the book, Starhawk emphasized that the erotic should not be understood solely in terms of heterosexual or reproductive sexuality, nor necessarily always in terms of pairs (as opposed to individuals or groups). Instead, eros is a relational force that is found throughout nature and within the self. She writes:

Sexual reproduction is an elegant method of ensuring maximum biological diversity. […] But to take one particular form of sexual union as the model for the whole is to limit ourselves unfairly. If we could, instead, take the whole as the model for the part, then whomever or whatever we choose to love, even if it ourselves in our solitude, all our acts of love and pleasure could reflect the union of leaf and sun, the wheeling dance of galaxies, or the slow swelling of bud to fruit. (The Spiral Dance 1999, 20-21)

Starhawk is in good company in understanding eros as both an individual and a cosmic principle. Her idea of the erotic echoes other the views of other theologians and spiritual writers of the twentieth century. To name just a few: psychologist and mystic C.G. Jung saw eros as the foundational principle of all relationship; feminist visionary Audre Lorde characterized the erotic an embodied impulse toward pleasure and holistic community flourishing; and progressive Christian theologians Carter Heyward and Marvin Ellison understand eros as a divine principle of desirous connection that motivates justice-making.

Perhaps because of the theology that “all acts of love and pleasure are [Her] rituals,” Wiccans, witches, and many other Pagans are often more accepting of sexual minorities and unusual sexual behaviors than is society at large. When sociologist Helen Berger surveyed American Pagans in the early 2000s, about 28% of Pagans identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual—a much larger percentage than in the United States overall. LGBTQ Pagans can be found in positions of religious leadership in many different Pagan traditions today, and many traditions have rituals to celebrate same-sex partnerships and even group marriages (for Pagans who practice polyamory, a form of ethical nonmonogamy). Such rituals may sacralize temporary partnerships—for example, for a year and a day, at the end of which the commitment may be renewed—while other rituals formalize a lifetime partnership, or even a commitment to seek one another in a future life.

Pagans usually consider sexual activity to be ethical if it is consensual, between adults, and does no harm. Today, Pagans are having important conversations about how to ensure valid consent to sexual activity, as well as exploring the impact of individuals’ sexual behavior on their communities. Because inequality—based on race, class, gender, gender identity, and other factors—is an unavoidable part of living in our society, Pagans struggle with questions about how to best navigate power differentials in romantic and sexual relationships.

Pagan traditions challenge religious traditions that see the body as sinful or as a prison for the soul. Although celebration of sexuality is most central for Wiccans and other witches, sexual freedom and community harmony are important values for many Pagans. Accordingly, the Pagan movement continues to welcome LGBTQ people and other sexual minorities who find themselves unwelcome in their birth religions. For Pagans of many paths, the body is an important site of religious practice, a place in which we can meet divinity flesh to flesh and heart to heart.

Find out more:

Books for Kids

So, you want to share your Pagan world-view and values with your kids, without indoctrinating them into it? What better way than to give them the kind of books you loved as a kid, which may have influenced your own path to recognising that you are a Pagan?

Most Pagans believe that you cannot be converted to Paganism, in any case: it wells up from within as a response to the beauty of Nature: “the green Earth and the white Moon among the stars”.

Here are some books that I love and would recommend.

Illustrated books for younger children

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I love this book so much that I bought the French edition as well (it was originally written in French). It’s a poignant story of how an aviator who has crashed in the desert meets a traveller from another planet – the little prince who lives on the asteroid B612. The little prince tells of his travels from one asteroid to another. The story is quirky and charming, but also sad and wistful. It tells of how being a grown-up drains the enchantment from the world, whereas a child knows about seeing the magic and mystery in the world.

Google Books · Wikipedia


The Whales’ Song by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe

This is a lovely book with beautiful illustrations and the evocative story of Lily, a small girl who lives with her grandmother. Her grandmother tells her stories about the whales, and how beautiful they are.

It is presumably meant to be read aloud to small children, but it is enjoyable for all ages.

Amazon.co.uk · GoodReads

The paintings from The Whales’ Song are very beautiful and won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1990.
Gary Blythe, paintings from "The Whales' Song". Photo by Plum Leaves on Flickr

Gary Blythe, paintings from The Whales’ Song. Photo by Plum Leaves on Flickr. [CC-BY-2.0]


Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

An absolute classic ever since it was published, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a gull who is not like other gulls. He lives to fly rather than to eat. Eventually he is shunned by the other gulls, until some come to learn from him. This is a story of individuality and courage, beautifully illustrated with pictures of gulls in flight.

GoodReads says:

People who make their own rules when they know they’re right…people who get a special pleasure out of doing something well (even if only for themselves)…people who know there’s more to this whole living thing than meets the eye: they’ll be with Jonathan Seagull all the way. Others may simply escape into a delightful adventure about freedom and flight.


Longer books for older children

The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin

This is a wonderful series of books on how to use magic responsibly, with unforgettable characters, beautiful seascapes, and an excellent style of writing. The author is a Taoist, and the philosophy of Taoism is evident in the unfolding of the story (but never in a heavy-handed way).

Ged, a mage from a remote island, goes to wizard school on Roke, but one day when he is showing off his powers to the other students, he brings a terrible thing into the world: a gebbeth. He must go on a quest to track it down. On his journey, he has wonderful adventures and meets a dragon and an unhappy priestess.

Amazon.co.uk · Fantasy Book Review · Ursula K Le Guin


 Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling

This is the book that I always credit with making me realise that I am a Pagan. Puck, an ancient earth spirit who lives under Pook’s Hill, is accidentally summoned by Dan and Una when they perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Midsummer Eve. He introduces the children to a stream of historical characters and incidents. One of my favourites is the story of Parnesius and Pertniax, two Roman soldiers on Hadrian’s Wall who makes friends with a Pict. The adventures of Sir Richard Dalyngridge with the Vikings are very exciting, too.


Rewards and Fairies by Rudyard Kipling

This is the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill, and has even more Pagan stuff in it. The story of the Marklake witches, and The Knife and the Naked Chalk, are outstanding. There is also a wonderful poem, The Way through the Woods, which is very evocative of lost things, and wistful. The book doesn’t have quite such a coherent theme as its prequel, but that may actually be a good thing.


Witch Child by Celia Rees

Aimed at teenagers, this is a story of a girl whose grandmother is hanged for witchcraft, and who must then make her own way in a world of fear and superstition. Celia Rees writes beautifully of landscapes and customs, but the book is gripping from start to finish.  There’s also a sequel, Sorceress.

“compelling and convincing.Rees has become a major writer for teenage readers.” Independent

“every now and then one reads a book which stirs up the deepest of feelings and continues to cause ripples and this book is just such a one” School Librarian Journal

Amazon.co.uk · Celia Rees


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Lily is a lonely motherless girl who lives in South Carolina and is visited by bees. After her friend Rosaleen is beaten up for registering to vote, they run away and find happiness from an unexpected connection from the past.

This novel has also been made into a film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Amazon.co.uk · Sue Monk Kidd


 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is a story of an orphaned girl who discovers the beauty of the Yorkshire Moors, the value of friendship, and the magic of gardening. The main characters – Mary, the protagonist, Dickon the child of Nature, and Colin the intellectual are unforgettable; and the minor characters such as Ben the gruff gardener and Dickon’s mother, are beautifully drawn too. This has also been made into a film.


The Moomin series by Tove Jansson

Moominvalley is located on the edge of the Gulf of Finland, and the creatures that live there include Moomins, Hemulens, Fillyjonks and their friends. They have a series of adventures; the stories mostly focus on Moomintroll and his friendship with Snufkin, who is a wanderer who doesn’t like to have too many possessions, and is almost Zen Buddhist in his thinking. The whole series has a wistful and charming tone, a keen observation of Nature, and the books are beautifully illustrated.


The Iron Wolf by Richard Adams

This is a collection of folktales from all around the world, rewritten for children. One of my favourites is an Italian story about how the birds got their colours, but all the stories are well-written and enjoyable.

‘Authors need folk-tales,’ Richard Adams says, ‘in the same way as composers need folk-song. They’re the headspring of the narrator’s art, where the story stands forth at its simple, irreducible best. They don’t date, any more than dreams, for they are the collective dreams of humanity.’


Watership Down by Richard Adams

The gripping story of the journey of five rabbits who escape the destruction of their home warren after Fiver (a shaman-rabbit) has a vision of its impending doom. The friendship of the rabbits, the visionary experiences of Fiver, and the legends of El-Ahrairah, the trickster rabbit hero (who bears more than a passing resemblance to human trickster gods), make this a magical and unforgettable story.


 

Strandloper by Alan Garner

The story opens with a group of people holding a curiously pagan folk ritual in a church. One of them, William Buckley, has learnt to read, which is regarded as a subversive crime; and he is transported to Australia for blasphemy, where he escapes from the penal colony and goes to live with Aborigines. This is a very evocative look at the similarities and differences between English folk mythology and Australian Aborigine mythology, and the differences between folk religion and revealed religion. The English section of the story is based fairly closely on the facts.

PAGAN CONSENT CULTURE Anthology Is Available!

Pagan Consent Culture - cover by Shauna Aura Knight

cover by Shauna Aura Knight

Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow are pleased to announce the release of Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy, a new collection from Asphodel Press.

How might a Druid understand consent? How about a Wiccan, a Thelemite, a Heathen, or a Polytheist? In this collection, Pagans of many traditions show how to ground good consent practices in Pagan stories, liturgies, and values.

Although many Pagans see the body and sexuality as sacred, Pagan communities still struggle with the reality of assault and abuse. To build consent culture, good consent practices must be embraced by communities, not just by individuals—and consent is about much more than sexuality. Consent culture begins with the idea of autonomy, with recognizing our right to control our bodies and selves in all areas of life; and it is sustained by empathy, the ability to understand and share the emotional states of others.

In Part One of Pagan Consent Culture, writers develop specifically Pagan philosophies of consent, tackling complex issues such as power differentials, sexual initiation, rape culture in traditional myths, and relationships with the gods. Part Two presents personal narratives of abuse and healing, as well as policies to help prevent sexual abuse and assault and to effectively respond to it when it occurs. Finally, Part Three provides resources for teaching and practicing consent culture, including curricula and exercises for children and adults.

Pagan Consent Culture is available from Asphodel Press (via Lulu.com) in paperback and electronic formats.

Check out the Pagan Consent Culture website for further resources, as well as a free study guide!

www.paganconsentculture.com

 

Table of Contents

Part I: Developing Pagan Philosophies of Consent

  • Culture of Consent, Culture of Sovereignty: A Recipe from a Druid’s Perspective, by John Beckett
  • Thelema and Consent, by Brandy Williams
  • Consent within Heathenry, by Sophia Sheree Martinez
  • Matriarchy and Consent Culture in a Feminist Pagan Community, by Yeshe Rabbit
  • Wicca and Consent, by Yvonne Aburrow
  • The Anderson Faery Tradition and Sexual Initiation: An Interview with Traci, by Helix
  • Consent. Contact. An Animist Approach to Consent, by Theo Wildcroft
  • Seeking a Morality of Difference: A Polytheological Approach to Consent, by Julian Betkowski
  • The Charge of the Goddess: Teachings about Desire and Its End, and Their Limitations, by Grove Harris
  • Walking the Underworld Paths: BDSM, Power Exchange, and Consent in a Sacred Context, by Raven Kaldera
  • Saving Iphigenia: Escaping Ancient Rape Culture through Creating Modern Myths, by Thenea Pantera
  • Is “Tam Lin” a Rape Story? Yes, Maybe, and No, by A. Acland
  • Godspousery and Consent, by Sebastian Lokason

Part II: Responding to Abuse and Assault

  • The Third Degree: Exploitation and Initiation, by Jason Thomas Pitzl
  • From Fear into Power: Transforming Survivorship Sarah Twichell Rosehill
  • In the Midst of Avalon: Casualties of the Sexual Revolution, by Katessa S. Harkey
  • Responding to Abuse in the Pagan Community, by Cat Chapin-Bishop
  • Sexual Assault and Abuse Prevention: Safeguarding Policies for Pagan Communities, by Kim and Tracey Dent-Brown, with the Triple Horse Coven
  • The Rite and Right of Refusal: Sexual Assault Prevention and Response in Communities and at Festivals, by Diana Rajchel
  • Sex-Positive, Not Sex-Pressuring: Consent, Boundaries, and Ethics in Pagan Communities, by Shauna Aura Knight
  • Living in Community with Trauma Survivors, by Lydia M. N. Crabtree
  • Consent in Intergenerational Community, by Lasara Firefox Allen

Part III: Building Communities of Autonomy and Empathy

  • Mindful Touch as a Religious Practice, by Christine Hoff Kraemer
  • Consent Culture: Radical Love and Radical Accessibility, by Stasa Morgan-Appel
  • Wild Naked Pagans and How to Host Them, by Tom Swiss
  • Respect, Relationship and Responsibility: UU Resources for Pagan Consent Education, by Zebrine Gray
  • Self-Possession as a Pillar of Parenting, by Nadirah Adeye
  • Paganism, Children, and Consent Culture: An Interview with Sierra Black, by Sarah Whedon
  • Teaching Consent Culture: Tips and Games for Kids, Teens, and Adults, by Christine Hoff Kraemer
  • Asperger’s Syndrome and Consent Culture: An Interview with Vinnie West, Joshua Tenpenny, and Maya Kurentz, by Raven Kaldera
  • Consent in Gardnerian Wiccan Practice, by Jo Anderson, with the Triple Horse Coven
  • Teaching Sex Magick, by Sable Aradia
  • Healing the Hungry Heart, by B. B. Blank

Appendices

  • Additional Resources
  • Sample Handout: Tradition-Specific Consent Culture Class
  • The Earth Religion Anti-Abuse Resolution (1988)
  • A Pagan Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse (2009)

 

Possession, Depossession, and Divine Relationships by Diana L. Paxson (Book Review)

Paxson PossessionDiana L. Paxson’s Possession, Depossession, and Divine Relationships is a practical and informational text on possessory work with spirits and gods. The first section of the book deals with preparation for deep spiritual and magical work of any kind: practices designed to stabilize and strengthen the self. Next, Paxson guides the reader through the process of contacting gods and spirits and developing a devotional relationship. The third section looks at possessory practices around the world (including among Pagans in the United States) for models of how groups successfully negotiate possession. The final section of the book outlines practices for preparing for possession, gaining skill as a medium, and building a group container in which possession can successfully and safely occur. The book is written from a hard polytheist perspective (treating the gods as separately existing beings with their own agency), but Paxson also discusses archetypal approaches to possession work and does not insist that practitioners hold any particular theology.

As I read the book, I found myself in turns feeling impressed and uncomfortable. Paxson’s extensive reading and personal experience of possession make her a convincing authority on the subject (which, having personally witnessed her in action as an oracle, I can confirm). I appreciated the historical and contemporary information she gives on possession practices, with particular attention to Spiritualism, Spiritism, and Afro-Caribbean traditions.

I was also intrigued by the detailed cross-cultural information on models of the multi-part soul. Paxson encourages the reader to approach the spiritual self as an entity of many parts, organically and complexly relating. She recommends bringing each part under the influence of protective forces as part of her regimen of spiritual strengthening, prior to seeking out divine relationships. The book as a whole demonstrates a breadth of knowledge of religion and spirituality that can make it easy to trust Paxson as an expert.

In some ways, however, the book’s very breadth makes me uneasy. It is of medium length—about 250 pages—and its goals are lofty: to help readers prepare for a dangerous and taxing spiritual practice; to educate them about possession globally; to guide them into healthy relationships with gods and spirits; and finally, to enable them to practice possession as safely as possible. Any of these topics could be a book in itself (and in some cases, there are such books already). The need to keep the book a manageable length lends itself to questionable generalizations, such as the statement that “Most religions hold that the purpose of our life is to become closer to God” (21), or the implication that Plato’s theory of forms and Jung’s theory of archetypes are functionally identical (40). A book that aims to be broad and encompassing inevitably lacks nuance, and as I read, I wondered what nuance was missing from Paxson’s presentation of the primary subject.

I only become more uneasy when I think of a solitary individual or an isolated group attempting to use this book to attempt possession work. The book’s first two sections are a compressed curriculum for a course of spiritual development work that takes most people years. Though the book gives no time frame for that work, the section’s relative brevity suggests that the work should take only a few months. This is simply not enough preparation for such a demanding spiritual activity.

Having had a small amount of training in possessory technique and having assisted in possessory rituals a number of times, I approach possession as exhilarating but dangerously unpredictable. If a group happens to include a talented but basically untrained medium, it would be easy to skate too quickly through the book’s opening sections to “get to the good part”—in which case the group could find themselves struggling with experiences that traumatized the medium, the other group members, or both.

On the other hand, groups that pick up this book because problematic possession has already happened will likely find its resources to be helpful, as it has concrete suggestions for how to set boundaries with spirits and gods. A group that has no “god-bothered” members (no members, in other words, who experience the gods whether they want to or not) will only get results from this book with dedicated effort, and probably only then if they use the resources it provides to seek in-person help and training.

I was most pleased with the guide to building divine relationships. Paxson provides a framework for approaching gods and spirits while clearly signaling that the work will evolve and expand as the relationship does. The text presents itself not as a definitive program of training, but rather as a guide to an experience that must be unique to the individuals involved.

The book’s final section, in which Paxson discusses how one might attempt possession work, is even more open-ended. Paxson shares some of her own journal entries, allowing the reader to appreciate that her development of skill as a medium took many years and required the support of many teachers, friends, and experienced groups of people. She demonstrates that the journey of a medium is completely individual and cannot be accomplished by working through a curriculum. Paxson also emphasizes that historically and in contemporary religions, possession work is done as a service to a community. For her, possession is not a solitary practice.

Paxson discusses some of the dangers of possession, such as damage to the medium’s mental, spiritual, and/or physical health, as well as the possibility of “horsetalk,” where a medium brings through a message that comes mostly from the medium herself, not from a god. Paxson appropriately encourages people who develop health problems or who are traumatized in the course of mediumship to stop (or at least set boundaries) until they are healed or strengthened. In response to the problem of “horsetalk,” she gives guidelines for those who receive the messages to validate them—by getting second or third opinions from other diviners, by looking at lore, and by testing them against one’s own sense of truth.

However, I found myself wishing she had dealt in more depth with the group-shattering dynamics that can result from attempts at possession. For example, unethical but charismatic leaders may feign possession in order to manipulate group members. Possessions may also be partial, leaving some members sure that the experience was genuine while others suspect “horsetalk.” Even when all members agree that a possession is genuine, success does not guarantee a pleasant experience. Unpredictable behavior on the part of the possessed (especially with an underprepared support team) can result in participants feeling violated or simply uncomfortable with the person who was being ridden. Paxson also does not substantially discuss the dangers of improperly warded ritual spaces or attempts to invoke deities with whom there is no strong pre-existing relationship. Groups that have not carefully prepared for possession work may find one of their members possessed by someone or something other than the Person they intended to call—who may delight in causing mischief.

Overall, Possession, Depossession, and Divine Relationships would make an excellent supporting text for an individual who is pursuing mediumship training with a teacher or group. The information is well-organized and Paxson’s approach is sensible and sane. Paxson also draws appropriately on the wisdom of other Pagan mediums through a series of interviews that she quotes throughout the text. I suspect the book would be very much of help to the “god-bothered” who wish to tone down or better control their contact with the divine. When I think of a reader or a small group using the book to pursue possession without a pressing need or experienced help, however, the best I can say is that it may be better than nothing. Such readers would be best served by reading everything in the book’s bibliography—and then, hopefully, seeking a teacher.

Wicca: History, Belief, and Community

Ethan Doyle White has recently published an important new book: Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft, available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, and due for release on 1 November 2015. So I approached him for an interview. 

Wicca - by Ethan Doyle White [Cover image supplied by Ethan Doyle White]

Wicca, by Ethan Doyle White

DfD: Tell us about yourself, Ethan…

I am a trained archaeologist with a particular interest in the pre-Christian belief systems of Europe and the manner in which they have been reinterpreted and utilised in modern contexts, particularly within the contemporary Pagan movement. I am currently engaged in MPhil/PhD studies in Early Medieval archaeology at University College London (UCL), and run the Albion Calling blog on which I have interviewed such scholars as Ronald Hutton, Sabina Magliocco, and Graham Harvey.

DfD: What prompted you to start researching Wicca?

It was just down to personal interest, quite frankly. Growing up in suburban London, I was born and raised in what Professor Robert Mathiesen called an “esoteric family”, in that my parents were involved in various esoteric movements. In the case of my own household, that esotericism expressed itself as a syncretic blend of Spiritualism, the New Age movement, and (to a lesser extent) Christianity. I’m thus in a fairly unusual position of being an individual who was raised to believe in the fundamental normalness of esoteric ideas; I would come home from school to find séances, Tarot card reading, or reiki healing taking place in the living room, for instance. Quite a few friends and acquaintances have expressed jealousy of that fact.

As a tweenager and teenager I was very interested in religious studies. On a personal level, I experimented with the likes of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism, and developed a great fascination with ritual and the materiality of religion ((of course, at the time I’d never heard of such jargon as the “materiality of religion”, which describes the way in which religiosity is expressed in “material culture”, or to put it more bluntly, it’s all about religious paraphernalia and other “stuff”!). I was also very much interested in mythology, folklore, and the pre-Christian societies of the European continent, in particular those of the North. As I would later find out, these are all common elements reported by those who subsequently convert to forms of contemporary Paganism, thus helping to generate the sensation of conversion being a “homecoming.”

Ethan Doyle White (photo supplied by EDW)

Ethan Doyle White

Pretty soon I came upon Wicca through an eclectic ‘Wicca 101’ book, and I found it absolutely fascinating. I certainly flirted with the ‘Teen Witchcraft’ movement, as so many others did at the time. However, within a few years my involvement with the Craft had moved from being that of a teenage spiritual seeker to quite firmly being an “outsider” with no particular desire for practical participation. As I grew into my late teens and early twenties I had lost my faith in many of the esoteric and religious ideas that I was raised with, becoming a great deal more sceptical about the existence of preternatural entities, magic, and all such ‘paranormal’ things which have not had their existence confirmed by scientific enquiry. These days I self-define as a secular humanist, although my strong fascination for religions like Wicca has remained and for that reason I have continued to research the subject and write on it in an academic capacity. I think that I’m quite well placed to do so, being an “outsider” to the religion who at the same time has an awful lot of respect for esoteric and Pagan schools of thought as a result of my own personal background. My work on the subject is therefore not un-critical, but is generally quite sympathetic and is certainly not hostile; I hope therefore that it will satisfy both devout practitioners and ardent critics of the Craft.

DfD: How long did the book take to write?

If I remember correctly, I started to write a book on the subject of Wicca – specifically the history of Wicca – when I was seventeen (so seven years ago now). At the time I had never read an article in a peer-reviewed journal and had absolutely no idea how to write academically. After entering the university system, as well as independently researching and publishing a variety of articles in peer-reviewed journals, I gained a much better grasp of how academic writing is done. For that reason, I largely scrapped my original manuscript and started again when I was nineteen, this time deciding to create a work that would cover all areas of Wicca – history, belief and practice, and sociological and cultural issues – which I felt was probably a lot more useful for people than a book purely dealing with the faith’s history.

By this point, I had realised that while some excellent research on Wicca had been conducted – work by Ronald Hutton, Sabina Magliocco, and Helen Berger jumps to mind – there still wasn’t a single academic book that actually offered an introduction to this new religious movement. There were introductory works on contemporary Paganism as a whole by the likes of Graham Harvey and Margot Adler, and of course there were various ‘Wicca 101’ books authored by practitioners, but these weren’t ideal for the needs of a religious studies student or just a general interested reader who really wanted a good, scholarly, yet in-depth summary of Wicca. I’m not terribly business-minded, but quite simply I saw a gap in the market.

Thus, I would say that the book as it currently exists probably took me five years to write; of course, I had to juggle its production with my university studies, research articles, the Albion Calling blog, paid employment, and of course an all-important social life! So it has been a lengthy process, and a labour of love, but I do hope that it was worth it.

DfD: What was your research methodology? 

In this case there wasn’t a research methodology per se. I wasn’t in the position to conduct in-depth ethnographic research – and even if I did it would have been regionally constrained – but rather I wanted to produce a textbook that brought together other scholars’ work and synthesised it all in one place. Most of those with a scholarly interest in Wicca will be aware of the best known book-length academic studies of the subject, but in producing this volume I discovered that there was an awful lot more research on the subject than I had ever realised, with hundreds of academic articles having been published, often in comparatively obscure academic outlets like the World Leisure Journal and Cornish Studies. That’s why my book’s bibliography is 29 pages long!

However, as I was writing the work there were questions that really intrigued me, in particular regarding such issues as the etymology and changing usage of the word “Wicca” within the Pagan community, the origins of the Wiccan Rede, and the life and theology of the British Witch Robert Cochrane, so I undertook historical studies on those particular issues, resulting in articles for peer-reviewed academic journals like The Pomegranate, Correspondences, Folklore, and Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft. These were spin-offs from the book as it were, and helped to give me – as someone too young to possess either a doctorate or professional academic post – the scholarly credibility that I needed to ultimately gain an academic publisher for the volume.

Can you share any of your more surprising findings?

I think that my most surprising findings all arose from my research into the word “Wicca”, which resulted in my very first academic publication, ‘The Meaning of “Wicca”: A Study in Etymology, History and Pagan Politics’, in a 2010 issue of The Pomegranate. It seemed that most people with an interest in the Craft – including myself, initially – were under the impression that Gerald Gardner had either developed the term “Wicca” (based on the Old English wicca) or gained it from the New Forest coven. According to this story, Gardner used the term explicitly to describe his Gardnerian tradition, but in the 1970s and 1980s “eclectic” practitioners adopted it for themselves and stretched it into a far more inclusive term for all forms of contemporary Pagan Witchcraft.

Simply put, a methodical examination of the early texts of the movement showed that that wasn’t the case. Gardner never used the term “Wicca”. What he did use was the term “the Wica”, which contains only one c, not two. However, “the Wica” was not a name for this religion, or even his tradition specifically. Instead it referred to the community of Pagan Witches – a community that he of course believed (or at least, publicly appeared to believe) – represented isolated survivals of a pre-Christian Murrayite witch-cult with its origins in prehistory. Thus, in Gardner’s understanding of the term, “the Wica” comprised not only his own Gardnerians, but also members of the traditions propagated by other Witches like Charles Cardell and Victor Anderson, both of whom he was in contact with.

The historical data shows that the term “Wicca” – as a name for the religion itself – appears in Britain in the early 1960s, where it is use among the early Alexandrians. They don’t use it in an exclusive manner to refer solely to the Gardnerians and Alexandrians, but rather in a far wider, inclusive manner, to refer to all Pagan Witchcraft groups claiming to be the survivals of Murray’s witch-cult. If you read Stewart Farrar’s What Witches Do, an early Alexandrian work, you’ll see him talking of Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Traditional, and Hereditary “Wiccans”, not “Witches”.

Basically, what we see here is that the common conception of the etymology of “Wicca” – that it was originally very exclusive and only later transformed into a wide-ranging inclusive term – is completely wrong. The term was in fact very inclusive from the start, and instead it was practitioners of the Gardnerian-Alexandrian tradition operating in the U.S. who then tried to restrict its usage during the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps as a part of boundary policing at a time when they wished to distance themselves from the growth of the Dianic Wiccans, Feri Wiccans, and self-dedicants who had built their tradition on the published work of Lady Sheba, Paul Huson, Raymond Buckland and the like.

For those Wiccans, and scholars interested in Wicca, who have not necessarily been following all of the latest developments in the study of the subject over the past few years, or even decades, I think that my work will be a bit of an eye opener.

DfD: How do you think Wicca, which was born in the repressive 1950s, and grew up in the “permissive” 60s and 70s, fits in with contemporary culture?

Well, in many ways I think that Wicca is intrinsically counter-cultural – it’s hardly a widely accepted part of mainstream culture to call oneself a “Witch”, venerate a deity other than the Judaeo-Christian God, and proclaim the ability to work magic! It is also marginal in that it holds the adherence of only a very tiny proportion of the overall population in any given country. Thus, I think that – just like other esoteric and Pagan movements – it exists within the “cultic milieu” at the cultural margins of Western society, which is part of what makes it so interesting for me and probably for many of its own participants, but at the same time it is that which makes it vulnerable to prejudice and persecution. I’m personally sceptical regarding the idea that Wicca will ever truly break out of this marginal position and enter the cultural mainstream; to do so I think that you would need to see not only the “western rationalist” scientific establishment embrace the objective validity of magic but also Wicca become a dominant religion with a large minority or even majority of the population professing allegiance to it. I appreciate that there are Wiccans who do believe – or at least hope – that this might eventually happen, but if I’m honest I have to say that I’d very surprised if such a scenario ever came to fruition. Then again, stranger things have happened – how many people living in the Roman Empire during the first-century CE thought that Christianity would come to dominate not only Rome itself but the entirety of Europe ?

DfD: What do you think might be the future for Wicca – both the eclectic varieties and the initiatory traditions?

I think that the short term future – the next fifty years or so – looks quite bright. The established, initiatory traditions are in a fairly stable place right now, at least in the Anglophone Western nations. Even if they aren’t growing at the rapid pace that they once experienced, their membership isn’t in significant decline, they’ve shown their capability to develop good relations with their neighbours, and they’ve established legally-recognised organisations that have helped to provide Wicca with greater visibility and legal protection. While this process of routinization definitely brings benefits for some Wiccan groups, at the same time other practitioners have resisted all of this and retained a fairly anarchic, secretive structure that they are far more comfortable with. To me, this says that Wicca is remarkably flexible and adaptable, able to fit both its participants’ desires and society’s demands, and that will no doubt stand it in good stead, at least over the coming decades.

When it comes to the “eclectic” Wiccans, I think that we will also see things remaining fairly stable in the near future too, with no dramatic surges and no dramatic declines. I have little doubt that while the books of Scott Cunningham and Silver RavenWolf remain readily available, you will still see a trickle of practitioners brought into the fold through them. I’ve noticed that in the past year or so there appears to have been something of a miniature revival of pop culture interest in Wiccan(esque) witchcraft and magic: we have a remake of The Craft coming out, talk of a revival of Charmed, and the girl band Little Mix recently launched a music video that revolved around the idea of four schoolgirls discovering a magic book and using it to advance their own interests. Sound familiar? Furthermore, I’ve noticed a fascinating but rather unexpected interest in Wicca within the queer hip hop scene coming out from the States; an artist called Zebra Katz released a song called “Blk Wiccan”, while one of the most innovative rappers of recent years, Azealia Banks, has talked about Wicca in some widely publicised tweets. I suspect that all of this reflects an embodiment of 90s nostalgia – like myself, these are all individuals who were exposed to Sabrina, The Craft, Buffy, Charmed and the ‘Teen Witchcraft’ movement as they were growing up, and now that they are bursting onto the musical scene they are bringing those formative influences with them. However, it would not surprise me if these factors resulted in a second ‘Teen Witchcraft’ movement, emerging among those consuming this new media, even if this one is not as large or as significant as its late 90s/early 00s predecessor.

As for the longer term, by which I mean the next five hundred to a thousand years (and as an archaeologist I often find myself thinking in those terms), I’m really not sure what will happen to Wicca. I believe that the impulse that many Westerns have – to “revive” in one way or another pre-Christian spiritual systems – will undoubtedly survive and thus I think that modern Pagan religiosity will undoubtedly surface again and again, in either explicitly spiritual or simply artistic and aesthetic forms, just as it has done ever since the Renaissance. Wicca itself, however, has the potential to die out at some point in the far future. Both history and archaeology tell us that most religious groups do eventually succumb to extinction, either by being wiped out or by evolving into something else entirely. Since the 1950s, Wicca has been propelled in part by its counter-cultural chic and its rejection of dominant modes of monotheistic religiosity, but there could come a point where Wicca just feels like an out-of-date irrelevancy for people, and is unable to attract young blood to its cause. It could become an old folks’ religion on the brink of extinction, which is the fate that many (formerly powerful and influential) Christian groups in the West are facing right now. Equally, it could fall victim to serious persecution, or fall by the wayside as humanity is wracked by totalitarianism, epidemics, or war. I appreciate that that might not be a message that many Wiccans want to hear, but I don’t believe that practitioners of the faith should ever think that their religion is somehow immune to the forces of history that have wiped out many belief systems in the past, including those “paganisms” of the ancient world that inspire Wicca’s modern spiritual endeavours. However, even if this pessimistic outlook should be the case, I hope that texts such as my book will have helped to document the existence of this truly fascinating religious movement for posterity.

Thank you very much, Ethan!

You can find out more about Ethan Doyle White by following his blog, Albion Calling, or his work on Academia.edu.

Paganism for Beginners: Reading list

This is my list of recommended reading for beginners. Many other lists are available. If you don’t like my list, make your own. I have tried to keep the list fairly short, so as not to overwhelm you with a great long shopping list.

My recommendation would be to read widely and deeply, noting what you agree with, what riles you, and what attracts you. You don’t have to agree with everything you read. Rather you should engage with it, see how it affects you, think about any issues it raises for you.

I have always had trouble with books that have exercises in them, because I tend to think, “Oh yes I will do that exercise later” and I either skip over it and never come back to it, or put the book down and never finish it.

I have to confess that whilst I have read a few books on Heathenry and Druidry, none of them strike me as general introductions or 101 books, so I will refer you to other people’s lists for beginners in those traditions, and other polytheist traditions.

Pagan books

The Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci, by Barry Patterson

I have often said to people that if they only ever read one book on Paganism, it should be this one. It is all about how to engage with the landscape you live in, and how to connect with the spirits of place. It offers practical suggestions for deepening your connection with nature.

Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler

A great, and classic, introduction to contemporary Paganism. Goes into the beliefs, practices and communities in some depth. Evocatively and accessibly written.

The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates

This is one of my favourite books of all time. It is an exploration of the world of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry from the point of view of a young Christian missionary who comes to respect the Anglo-Saxon sorcerer he has been sent to learn from. It was based on the author’s PhD research into the Leechbook, an Anglo-Saxon herbal.

Books on Wicca

The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft  by Ronald Hutton

A must-read for anyone who wants to know the history of Wicca, with some reflections on how and why why the Pagan revival happened. Ronald Hutton examines the historical conditions and cultural movements that gave rise to the Pagan revival and the birth of Wicca, and looks at more recent history as well.

Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America by Chas S. Clifton

The story of the Pagan revival in the United States. Very well-written and researched. The US equivalent of Triumph of the Moon.

Wicca: Magickal Beginnings by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine

A textual and historical analysis of the possible origins of the rituals and practices of this modern tradition of Pagan Witchcraft. A fascinating book that I found to be really interesting and to deepen my understanding of Wicca.

Wicca: the Old Religion in the New Millennium by Vivianne Crowley

An excellent introduction to Wicca, with an exploration of the dynamics of the rituals from a Jungian perspective. First published in 1989, with a revised edition in 1997, this book is still a classic. In a recent reflection on the book, Vivianne Crowley wrote:

When I wrote Wicca, I had been in Wicca for 15 years. What I had seen in that time was how Wicca had the potential to transform people. Many of the processes that I had seen occurring as people worked their way through the initiatory systems were those that manifest through the inner journey of growth that Carl Gustav Jung called ‘individuation’. By exposing our inner world to the Gods and to those who share the spiritual journey with us, we are transformed. This is not the matter of a few years, but a lifelong process, which initiatory Wicca at its best can nurture, support and foster. The purpose of such a journey is that of the Great Work – the transformation of self as a starting point for the transformation of humankind; for if individuals do not change, then societies cannot evolve. Our aim is to grow nearer the Gods, to move from our egocentric engagement with the world for our own ends, to a re-centering that detaches us from our own preoccupations and allows us the see the world from a wider, deeper, and longer-term perspective.

On my to-read list

A couple of books I haven’t read yet, but keep meaning to get around to, as I see them recommended often on other people’s lists:

Other reading lists

 


This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘.

 

Paganism for Beginners: Diversity

On encountering the phenomenon of the Pagan revival for the first time, some people ask why there are so many different Pagan traditions.

There are many different answers to this question – here are the ones I can think of.

"Ny nordisk mat (12)" by Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 dk via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ny_nordisk_mat_(12).jpg#/media/File:Ny_nordisk_mat_(12).jpg

Ny nordisk mat (12)” – a Smörgåsbord by Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 dk via Wikimedia Commons.

The varieties of religious experience

There are many different forms of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and so on, because different people have different values, different theologies, and different taste in ritual styles. Some people like solemn and liturgical rituals with quite a lot of formality, and where you can predict what will happen next. Others like a lot of room for experimentation and going with the flow.

Similarly, there are many different forms of Paganism, with different theologies, ritual styles, and values. And there is often as much variation within traditions as there is between traditions. For example, one Wiccan coven or individual might be animist or polytheist in their outlook; another might be more duotheist. Some Wiccan covens are more into ceremonial magic than others; some are more hierarchical, some are more consensus-based. The array of traditions on offer is quite a Smörgåsbord.

When choosing a group in whichever tradition you are attracted to, it is a good idea to attend some of their rituals and see if they fit with your values and tastes, and whether they are open to people with differing theological perspectives.

Ancient paganism was diverse

Ancient paganism probably didn’t have the concept of “religion” as a distinct tradition with a coherent set of beliefs, values, and rituals that we have nowadays as a result of the influence of Christianity and its norms.

However, each culture had its own deities and customs and values, and these form the basis of many of the Pagan and polytheist traditions that have been revived.

In Greek and Roman culture, it is well-documented that different deities had their own cults and that these were different in different regions. There were also many different schools of thought within classical paganism, such as the Stoics and the Epicureans. There were also sacred dining-clubs devoted to Bacchus, which I think we should revive. Anyone care to join me?

Contemporary Paganism is diverse

There are many different types of people with different tastes, values, and cultural backgrounds attracted to contemporary Paganism too. And accordingly there are many different traditions on offer, and varying styles of ritual within those traditions.

Being English, with some ancestors from Cornwall, I suspect it is a fair bet that I have both Celtic and Saxon ancestors, maybe even a Norman ancestor or two, so it would be hard for me to choose a particular ethnic religion such as Heathenry or Druidry. That, along with my interest in magic and ecstatic techniques, is one of the reasons I am a Wiccan. It also means I get to honour the other gods in my personal household shrine, who are from other cultures (Roman, Hindu, Sumerian, and so on).

Just plain Pagan?

However, if you are not attracted to any particular Pagan tradition, there’s no rush. You can always attend open rituals of various different traditions, or get together with like-minded others for eclectic Pagan ritual.

Just don’t feel railroaded into doing “Wicca-lite” – there are plenty of other ways of being eclectic. Observe what moves you, what you feel is sacred, and create rituals around that. They don’t have to be complicated – they may just be as simple as noticing beautiful experiences and acknowledging them as sacred.

Find out more

If you are attracted to a particular tradition, go along to any open rituals they offer, and read more about the tradition. Talk to practitioners, ask lots of questions. Have a look at the various different Pagan organisations, some of which represent specific traditions.


This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide’. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost. 

Paganism for Beginners – Overview

I am Pagan. I am a part of the whole of Nature. The Rocks, the Animals, the Plants, the Elements, and Stars are my relatives. Other humans are my sisters and brothers, whatever their races, colors, genders, sexual orientations, ages, nationalities, religions, lifestyles. Planet Earth is my home. I am a part of this large family of Nature, not the master of it. I have my own special part to play and I seek to discover and play that part to the best of my ability. I seek to live in harmony with others in the family of Nature, treating others with respect. – Selena Fox

Tree at dawn, Bucovina, Romania [free image from Pixabay]

Tree at dawn, Bucovina, Romania [free image from Pixabay]

So, you have realised that you are a Pagan. You feel connected to Nature, or you read a book, or went to a Pagan festival, or went to a pub moot, and now you want to explore further. But where to start? Which are the best books, websites, organisations? How to find a reliable source of information?

I have realised that, despite all the many wonderful articles out there about Paganism, many of them assume a basic level of knowledge about Paganism, and if you don’t have that basic knowledge, it can be very difficult to know where to find it. What is self-initiation and why are so many people dismissive about it? What do Pagans believe? What is orthopraxy?

Add to that the fact that there are so many people on the internet who are willing to dismiss your hard-won insights, peddle pseudo-history, and claim that theirs is the One True Way, and it becomes very hard to sift reality from fantasy and find some people you might actually want to celebrate with. Plus the fact that we all spout jargon – though this is inevitable when we have a different way of looking at the world, and need the vocabulary to describe it.

So, this series will aim to provide a basic introduction to the Pagan movement and the various traditions within it, with links to resources, organisations, books, blogs, and websites. I will also provide a glossary of terms.

What is Paganism?

Many people have tried and failed to come up with a comprehensive definition of Paganism that includes everyone who identifies as Pagan – so the simplest explanation is ‘you are a Pagan if you think you are one’.

However, that is not very helpful if you are trying to work out whether you are one or not. You might be a Pagan if you agree with one or more of the following statements:

  • Deity
    • the nature of deity is unknowable
    • there are many gods
    • there’s a divine feminine and a divine masculine
    • there’s one god or goddess with many aspects
    • deity or deities is/are immanent in the world
    • there are many beings and spirits/wights
    • deities are archetypes (yes, it is possible to be an atheist and a Pagan);
  • The world
    • the physical world (this life) is just as good (or better than) the other planes of existence
    • the physical world is the the only plane of existence so let’s celebrate it;
  • The body
    • pleasure (sex/food/being alive/general pleasure) is good or sacred or life-enhancing;
    • the body is sacred;
    • same-sex relationships are just as valid as opposite-sex ones;
  • Nature
    • Nature / the Earth / the land is sacred;
    • life is less enjoyable if you don’t get a regular experience of nature in some form
    • darkness and death are not seen as negative, but part of the natural cycle
  • Magic
    • positive attitude to magic & ritual & arcane knowledge
  • The soul
    • reincarnation exists;
    • original sin (or similar concepts) does not exist.

Not all Pagans will agree on all of the above; that does not make them any less Pagan. Paganism is more of an attitude of mind than a fixed creed. It is always tempting to ask, “what do Pagans believe?” but a better question is “what do Pagans do?” That’s not to say we don’t need theology – of course we need theory to explain and underpin what we do – but we definitely don’t need dogma.

Paganism is an umbrella term for several different traditions, some of whose members identify as Pagan, and some of whom identify solely as a member of that tradition. It is also possible to be a Pagan without belonging to any particular tradition. However, most people find they want to meet other Pagans to bounce ideas off, and to celebrate the seasonal festivals with.

In future posts, I will look at the different Pagan traditions, Pagan values, and Pagan concepts. I will also do requests, so if you have a question or an idea for a topic, please leave a comment.

Further reading

This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost.  

One Pagan in the Season of Advent, the Season of #Ferguson #MikeBrown #EricGarner

My colleague Crystal Blanton recently issued a challenge to the (mostly white) Pagan community at large, asking why we have (so far) been so silent on Ferguson, on Eric Garner, on the ongoing, unfolding violent nightmare that is all around us, swamping us, and the courageous protesters that refuse to allow business to continue as usual. “Do you see us?” she asked.

Why have we been silent?

1.

I’m going to make a general statement about the white Pagan community, as I’ve experienced it through Patheos Pagan and other websites this past year. And it holds true for myself as well: we like to write from one of two places: learned and earned wisdom/expertise or direct personal experience.

Faced with the truth of Eric Garner, or Mike Brown, or Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin, or … how long this list should be and how limited I am for word count…as the horror unravels before us, around us, the violence, the death—even targeted slaughter seems an appropriate phrase—the white Pagan community can, most of us, claim neither expertise nor direct experience.

We stare, we gape, we fall to our knees, we try to provide witness, some of us, but we do not know.

What then can I say. What is given me to say. What is left me to say.

I try to see you. I try to hear you. I will continue to try. Maybe this is not enough.

2.

mandala leaves and petals 2

In my Soul Work class this semester, we have been encouraged to move away from language toward image. Away from statement toward question. Away from closure toward opening.

Opening. And then opening some more.

We started drawing mandalas and sharing them with each other. They are as individual and imperfect as fingerprints. As the iris of the eye. My own have evolved into blue and white studies of light and dark.

The act of drawing a mandala has become–for me–a potent practice of listening with my pen: drawing out the shadow(s), allowing the darkness to merge and emerge into and out of a design to inform it, make it beautiful.

This is a time of exploring the shadow. So let’s just say this: for centuries, we white folk have projected a lot of our shit onto Black men and women. WE have created a monster, we have pasted that monster onto the faces of others, and we have reacted—for centuries—with fear to our own creation. This is true for people of color in general but particularly right now we are called to witness injustice against Black men (and how this plays out against Black women, in turn).

Ferguson is what happens when for centuries, on a cultural scale, we do not face our own shadow.

So although I do not write from a place of expertise, or a place of personal experience, I can say this much: I call on my friends and colleagues, my peers, my neighbors, my family, no matter your race, ethnicity, class or politics or background: don’t look away. Don’t justify. Don’t fill the airwaves with defensive noise.

Let us listen, as deeply as we can, to the voices already lifted in protest, in anger, in witness. Let us amplify those voices with our own work. Daughters of Eve. Black Girl Dangerous. Urban Cusp. These are three I seek out regularly and share with you today.

And let us not look away from the dark places within ourselves. Anger, fear, insecurity, childhood trauma, resentment, deep sorrow, abandonment, abuse…there is so much we stuff down over the years.

We will never become a just society without doing the deep internal work, one by one, each of usmandala trust and stardust

3.

Although I am not a Christian, in this Advent season I find profound wisdom and challenge in the example of Mary, a young woman who listened deeply to what her God asked of her, and answered, simply, Yes.

There was nothing easy, or comfortable, or status quo about what was asked of Mary. She had to move into a place of greatest vulnerability, a place where the self changes fundamentally, a journey that could never be turned away from, once begun. Still, she answered Yes. And because of her Yes…the pattern changed.

I name this radical receptivity. And it is radical in both senses: taking us down to the root, and also extreme. It is the power that comes from giving up power.

So, Yes. In this season of advent and protest, horror and love, anger and resolution. Yes to my gods, to my friends, to my colleagues, to my neighbors and family and many many loves.

I do not know if I hear You, but I try to open myself to hear You. I do not know if I see You, but I try to open myself to see You. I will keep trying, and keep opening myself to Your truth, and my own.

Yes.

Mandala Things Come Together

 

 

 

Ten Pagan Writers I Am Grateful For In a Troubled Season

photo 2 (4)On Thursday, my family gathered around a table so filled with plenties of food, of laughter, of love, that all I could do was pray that as we gather around this country, justice and compassion might arise from many such tables. That our love for each other, our willingness to share with each other, how we have learned over decades to be more honest with each other…that all of these might  extend beyond the walls of our houses, the walls of our communities, and spread across the continent like butter on a Parker House roll.

It isn’t easy to write about gratitude, in the face of Ferguson, in the acknowledged history of Thanksgiving itself, our nation’s grounding in racism, exploitation, genocide.

This is my first year writing for Patheos Pagan, and my stumbling early steps have been supported by the work of so many other writers in this community that to single any out feels a little odd. The Patheos Pagan front page is a great place to poke around for a while, when you have some time.

Among all the thoughtful and passionate voices, here are ten I am especially grateful for at the moment, in no particular order. Many of these writers have more than one blog or website online, and several of them have books as well. The links I provide are specific to Patheos Pagan but I encourage you to search for their work in other places as well:

 

Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow, my mates here in Sermons, whose enthusiasm and scholarship I aspire to, and who—amazingly, generously—offered me this platform.

John Beckett, Under the Ancient Oaks, whose willingness to engage and inform with reasoned and reasonable discourse always teaches me something.

Crystal Blanton, one of the authors at Daughters of Eve. I learn from her, among other things, how to braid the roles of mother, witness, and religious seeker together in my life.

Rhyd Wildermuth, one of the authors at A Sense of Place, whose passions and politics are rooted in the ecstatic experience of the visionary in a way that speaks very deeply to me.

Niki Whiting, A Witch’s Ashram, whose sheer energy and intellectual acumen are balanced by her sense of fun and delight.

Cat Chapin-Bishop, Quaker Pagan Reflections, whose writing always appealed to me for its balance between ecstatic vision and calm reflection. Her recent willingness to engage racism in act and word  inspire me to do better myself.

Alyxander Folmer, who writes Wyrd Words every other Thursday for the Agora column, whose friendly and humorous posts were some of the first words that helped me believe I could maybe do this thing.

John Halstead, The Allergic Pagan, whose intellectual gifts are balanced by his willingness to talk about his own history and the path(s) that have brought him to this place.

Finally, most recently, Nornoriel Lokason, Ride the Spiral, whose work as advocate does not take away from his willingness to engage with and welcome dialogue with enthusiastic newbies like myself.

All of these writers have been lights to me this year. They help me understand how to root my spiritual quest for personal meaning, understanding, and justice-making, both in words and in the world we are part of. I have learned much, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Patheos is a multi-faith site, with channels for everyone from Evangelicals to Atheists. I encourage any reader to click around and read a bit. The diversity and liveliness of the voices is a richness for our 21st century times.

And, importantly, thanks to you, readers who have gifted my words with your attention this year. Your comments and responses, here on the blog and in person when I see you, mean a great deal, and the time you spend with my words moves me.  May we continue to find our way forward, together or apart, on the paths before us.