I can say without doubt that this post is of the complete opposite tenor of my previous one, but there you have it.
I've been doing more reading this week on Wicca and the history of Wicca. I've also spent much more time looking at older traditions of my religion, including Gardenarian and Alexandrian Wicca. I have to say, its really not to my tastes, and its given me a completely new perspective on my religion as a whole.
I have to first say, in all honesty, I truly believe there is no such thing as one right path, even in Wicca. I think that spirituality is something that is fluid and has to relate to the person who is practicing that particular form of spirituality. When I blog, in the following, that I don't particularly care for something, it isn't me saying it is wrong, only that it doesn't resonate for me. This does not mean I feel the people who use such practices should change, or that they are bad, or anything like that. It only means I relate differently. I still respect the founders of these traditions because they have done much for my religion as a whole, and their contributions are both large and valuable.
Rather than boring you with a history lesson, I will instead direct you to information concerning Gardinarian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca. Feel free to read up, it will give you a much better idea of where I am coming from with regard to my thoughts. In fact, it might also give you a good background to look into Janet and Stewart Ferrar as well, as most of my thoughts have come from reading their excellent books on witchcraft: The Witches' Bible, The Witches' God, and The Witches' Goddess. They are wonderful, well written, informative books. If you are interested in learning more about the general history of Wicca, both in its more ancient forms and in its modern incarnations, I would suggest reading Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, an excellent journalist and practicing pagan.
I will also add, in case you've missed any of my other posts about wicca, that I (along with Sakura, Kitten and Oscelot) am a tradition head for a new form of wicca. Or I should say, if my coven ever hives, I will be. A tradition head simply means that I have founded my own coven and that I (and by I, I mean our group) have created an eclectic coven that operates on its own principles and beliefs within the Wiccan framework. Should, and I hope it does, our coven ever grow past 13 members it will "hive" or split off from the original coven, practicing under new leadership the same things the current coven does, acting as a "daughter coven" which would relate to the older, original coven. The hope is, of course, to have several hives, and a large group of practitioners that relate to your particular brand of wicca because it brings them joy and comfort.
That said, I've had a lot of food for thought in the last couple of days. Part of this is a direct result of reading these books and becoming more intimately acquainted with the particulars of Gardenarian and Alexandrian rituals and coven practice. They really aren't my style. Part of that is that there is a certain ancientness and solemnity surrounding their ritual. Part of it is that it is very solid, there is no change. The ritual for Beltane, for example, is the same every year, and so on for all of the holidays. That, also, is not to my tastes. There is also a certain...I don't know...feel you get from the books I've been reading that while we are all very open about agreeing there is no one right path, the authors of the book feel that if there were one right path to be chosen, it would be theirs. It almost borders on dogma.
As you know, I am a very take it or leave it kind of person. Whenever we have people approach us about joining the coven or wanting to know more about it, I am very open about our ideas and practices. If they like what they hear, we can talk further. If they don't, well, I appreciate their time and we all move on with no hard feelings. I don't believe there is room for dogma in any reasonable religion, because you have to be concerned with other things. I don't have time to fight about whether I am right or wrong, I only need to know that I and my coven feel right about our practice. That has to be enough. We have other things to think about- like living good lives, and playing by the rules, etc. I'm all for theological discussion, but I am not into argument. I don't have the energy for it. Two people can be philosophically very different and agree to respect each others opinion even when they don't see eye to eye.
There was one passage in particular very early in the book (The Witch's Bible) which in specific gave me that impression:
"Interestingly, what Doreen Valiente has done for Gardenarian Wicca in Witchcraft for Tomorrow, Raymond Buckland has done for another tradition, Saxon Wicca, in The Tree, The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. That, too, includes a simple but comprehensive Book of Shadows and procedures for self-initiation and the founding of your own coven. We found many of the rituals in The Tree admirable, though we were less happy about its eight Festival rites, which are even scantier than in the Gardinarian Book of Shadows, and amount to little more than brief spoken declamations; they are based on the idea that the Goddess rules the summer, from Beltaine to Samhain, and the God the winter, from Damhain to Beltaine- a concept to which we cannot attune ourselves. Persephone, who withdraws to the underworld in winter, is only one aspect of the Goddess- a fact which her legend emphasizes by making her the daughter of the Great Mother.
However, to each his own; it is presumptuous to be too dogmatic, from the outside, about other traditions of the Craft. What matters is that anyone who wants to follow the Wiccan path but cannot get in touch with an established coven, now has two valid Wiccan traditions open to him in published form." (The Witches' Bible, p.29)
To me, this passage gave the impression that because the Saxon tradition chose to focus on Persephone as an archetype, and that wasn't really the authors' thing, that they were probably wrong. I wasn't a fan of the phrase "Too dogmatic from the outside" because I don't think you should be too dogmatic at all. It seems as though its maybe more acceptable to them to badmouth other traditions only within the privacy of the coven circle. It goes, to me, directly against one of the basic laws of the Craft "do not gossip or speak evil of other witches." Maybe I'm wrong there. I could be.
Anyway, with that at the outset of my studying, I felt a little unsettled with the book, and wondered how I would feel in relation to their other ideas. I won't bore you with a chapter by chapter analysis of the book, you can read it if you want to. I will say that I did enjoy looking at the basic rituals for all of the holidays, and for how they are relevant to them.
It was not for me.
I believe, very firmly, that wicca is an experiential religion. I think that interaction with god (and by god I of course mean the god, goddess or great spirit, The All, or however you express divinity) is something that is personal and has to relate directly to you. I think there are things that make less sense as a modern witch in some of these traditions than they would if we were still living at the turn of the century. Do I believe that god has existed since before time, is ancient and ageless and perfect? Yep, I sure do. Do I believe that this god is the only god there is? No.
I dislike the idea that god has to be some bearded man in the sky, or some crone sitting on a throne in a castle made of clouds. I see them that way, but I see god as both constant and ever changing. Because god is in everything, and everything changes, then god must change too. How else can he be relevant in a modern age? I think this is why some witches are into ceremonial magick, which involves pop culture references, because it is something relevant that relates to them. To me, its not something I am ready for, because I am more immersed in the things around me than pop culture, but I understand it from the view that we must see god in all places, rather than in one.
To me, the idea that god can only be spoken to in flowery, old fashioned language is an insult to the deity. They created the world which we live in, and have watched and existed in the changes that humans manifest. They would surely understand this blog post as well as they would a Shakespearean sonnet, right? (Maybe better, who writes in sonnets but bards?)
I have a hard time accepting that just because a way of doing things is older, or has been done more often, means it is better or works more effectively. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes not at all. Experience, then, is the only test of what really works for a person.
Another thing that I found irksome was the implication that if you were not living in the country it was hard to be in touch with the earth and the seasons. This is particularly insulting because we practice an earth based religion where the cycle of the seasons marks the turn of our year, our lives, and gives significance to our holidays. To tell me that if I can only view the change of the fall into winter from my window at my house in town rather than seeing my field frost in the country makes me less attuned to the earth, is the same as telling me that because I drive a car, I cannot relate to the feeling of walking or riding a bicycle or a horse. That's silly. Its condescending to say that when I note to myself that its time to get out the winter sweaters and scarves that this is my only way of marking the passing of the seasons is purely insulting. I may not have fields but I have a yard, and gardens and parks and lakes very close to me. My garden may be small, but it is mine, and I tend it with as much love as I would a whole crop of wheat.
My relationship to the earth, indeed, is one I could argue is as strong, or more strong, than a country person's because I crave the earth more- having less access to it on a moment to moment basis. I appreciate the fruits from my garden more, because I am not always able to have them. They are wonderful to me, and I understand the barrenness that comes with Lammas, Mabon and the dark months better, because I have less to store and enjoy during those times. Don't I count the months in which I wait to seed start? Don't I wait, too, for the blooming of my first flower in the spring?
Maybe I am wrongly indignant, but to me, saying "poor little city witch, you'll never feel the seasons the way I do" is hurtful and marginalizes my experience with the earth as a witch because I am not fortunate to have the means to live on a giant farm or commune. This is not the path for everyone. And to marginalize that path because it is not yours? I call it hubris.
There are other things, too, that bother me. Grated, this book was written in 1981, and those traditions were founded long before the gay liberation movement, or even the women's right's movement, but there is a distinct distaste projected in the book for gay covens and gay coven members. They say they do indeed, have gay friends, and gay coven members, but the coven members were only allowed in when they were able to "assume the role of their actual gender when in a Wiccan context." Thsi could of course lead to a lengthy discourse on whether or not a person's actual gender is their sex organs or what is in their soul, but lets all agree to what is obvious- I think that's a silly thing to require.
I also seem to feel more than a little reverse discrimination in the idea of these forms of wicca, and its something that bothers me deeply. I do know that I practice a goddess centered religion. As the High Priestess of my coven, I am the supreme authority, and the High Priest is second to me. In our mythology, the mother goddess never dies, whereas the father god is sacrificed twice a year for the sake of fertility (that's an oversimplification, but you get the gist of it). However, it seems wrong to me not to recognize further the polarity of nature. Is there not light and dark, day and night, frost and fire, god and goddess? Everything has a mate, a match, an opposite. This, to me, seems something that should hold true in the religious structure as well.
Sakura, who I am blessed to work with, is our High Priest. He is my dear friend and partner in this spiritual journey. In other traditions of wicca, it is not uncommon for a husband and wife to be high priest and priestess. However, we are both gay. I can say though, he and I understand each other fully, and there is no question in my mind of how we ever need proceed. It is an excellent partnership based on trust and love. His contributions to our tradition are no less significant than mine. It bothers me that as a priest of the wicca, he may be accorded the honor of "strapping on the sword" which is his right as a High Priest and a tradition head. It is his symbol of manhood and strength, and of the gifts of the god. I may wear a garter, with buckles for each of my daughter covens, and it is my honor and right as a High Priestess and tradition head to do so. What upsets me is that I may also strap on the sword. But Sakura may not wear a garter, because he is a male. I suppose this is to signify that while a woman can imbibe and even imitate the strength of a man by using an imitation phallus, a male may never understand the female experience because he cannot get rid of his penis.
I call bullshit. What about Oscelot, who has both sets of chromosomes, though she has a female's body? What does she do? May she only strap on the sword, because of her Y chromosome? I find it puzzling. I do see, with respect to Dianic Wicaa, which is all female, the need for a woman to strap on the sword. But what happens in an all male coven? Do such covens even exist? They surely must...but I have never heard of them. I would be interested to see what they do in such a situation. Polarity, to me, and the recognition of balance, seems so much more important.
The only other thing which I truly disagree with is the opinion of working skyclad, or naked. Now, I completely agree that if you want to and you have a private place to practice, its your right. I mean, it goes without saying you can raise great energy when you are not working with clothes- there is less between you and the rest of the universe. But there was implied that working with clothes on, choosing not to be skyclad was a result of three things- the first, vanity. If you are thinking of how you feel naked, you are more concerned with how you look than how your soul looks. The next is prudery, which I won't even argue, because you can read the post I made before this and know I'm not a prude. Finally, there is the implication that modesty is something that is imposed upon all of us by the patriarchal society that we live in. The man, they say, is trying to keep me covered.
I disagree completely. If my body, in its divinity, is something I regard as a beauty and a mystery, my source of power, why would I reveal that to someone? Even within the sacred circle, where I am with my most trusted spiritual family, I feel as though my understanding of myself and my divinity is mine alone, as their body and their divinity is theirs. Do I choose to share that with some of my circle, certainly. I am married to Kitten and I am lovers with Oscelot. however, it is only upon deep spiritual connection that I would choose to make the jump from physical connection to spiritual connection with regards to my body. As it is, I only do that with Kitten, and that's my private business.
I am not ashamed of myself. Yes, I am vain, but not so that I would be thinking of whether or not my coven thinks my thighs are fat. They seem them often enough when I wear skirts, or my underwear or whatever. I trust them to see me as I am. I don't need to be naked to touch the divine. The divine is already within the body, and in touch with me, whether I am clothed or not. And, though it may seem bold to say so, I trust my ability to raise power with my clothes on just fine.
So what has all this reflection done for me? It has made me more determined than ever to found a tradition of wicca, and to work with other traditions of wicca, who have the spiritual best in mind for their covens, where the relevance of deity is something that comes from both a modern and ancient perspective. I want to be a tradition where there is equal respect for all aspects of deity, and recognition of polarity in all places, not just in form or thought.
As I said, I am not saying they are wrong. It works for them, and practice is the only way to know whether or not something will work for you. I simply think it does not work for me, and I felt like I wanted to write about why. As I mentioned, I have great respect for the traditions I have mentioned. I have great respect for the authors in question. Without them, I would not have the tools I have now to form my own ideas and opinions. I will even confess that parts of my eclectic tradition draw from their traditions. But not all of them. Not even most of them.
I am much more clear, now, though, as to what direction I would like to take my coven. I know where I feel I have more growth to make, and where I can work to do more for the development of our spirituality and philosophy. For that, I am very thankful.
I hope my little rant has been interesting, or at least enlightening or entertaining for you.
A note, I obviously do not own Janet and Stewart Ferrar, any of their books or covens. I do not have claim to Alexandrian or Gardinarian or Saxon witchcraft. In general, nothing is my own except my coven and my opinions. I do, however, encourage you to read them in full to get a full picture of their ideas and thoughts, as this is merely my reflections and impressions of their work. Their ideas are their own, which I respect. I have no intention of offending or misusing any of their works, and this post was made with the intention of expressing my love of the Craft, harming none.