Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster

Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster
"Sorry guys...you haven't seen a small metal ball with wings flapping around by chance, have you?""

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dance!


"Shut up!  Dance it out!"

This cute little clip from Grey's Anatomy shows something that I've always thought---dancing and singing are very therapeutic.   Along with some recent experiences and books I've read, I'm now wondering if dancing and singing should be in any person's bag of tricks, especially a witch or shaman.

There's a reason witches are often portrayed laughing loudly laughing and dancing at midnight Sabbats.  There's a reason why shamans are often portrayed as dancing and singing as they bang a drum around a fire. Dance has always been a path towards ecstatic rituals.  It replenishes, it energizes, it relativizes problems.   It's a way of working things out.  It transforms.  It makes relaxation that much more satisfying.  It's powerful.

In modern European and American society, we restrict dancing to specific social circumstances (i.e. in a club).  We tend to think that letting go too much while dancing, even in some of the socially-approved circumstances for such is dangerous.  I've had some hesitations about dancing socially this past year.  I dance salsa, and had changed my style (on2 as opposed to on1) and struggled with keeping a consistent beat at times.  I've found this embarrassing and have sometimes refrained from dancing as a result, even in private.  This is of course a vicious cycle--you don't dance, you feel uncomfortable dancing, so you don't let go, so you don't dance well, and so on.    In retrospect, that's silly.  You don't have to do that.   It is true that dancing socially requires some consensus on the part of the people dancing together, so it is useful to find out what that consensus is and practice it. Even if you don't like dancing socially, dance alone and dance however you want.   Cut a rug in the bathroom at work.  Break it down when you're at home.  And don't be embarrassed about it, don't tell yourself you don't have rhythm or that you're clumsy.  It doesn't matter.  You only dance "wrong" if you don't enjoy it.   Look at these people; they've learned to enjoy it. 



Let go and move.  It'll make you feel better.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Definitions of witchcraft: bootleg magic, practical spirituality, transgression begets enlightenment


A reasonable question might be asked of one who claims to be a naturalistic spiritual atheist and a witch...what purpose does the witch part serve? It would be just as easy to identify as the first part. So I feel I should say what I define a witch as, and why I feel affinity with the idea.


Witchcraft, of course, has many different meanings, depending on the source and context.  The late Isaac Bonewits, a distinguished magical practitioner and Neopagan--the only one to ever receive a B.A. in Magic from an accredited university (UC Berkley) wrote an inimitable essay titled "Classifying Witchcraft" which breaks down many classifications of "witches".

Indeed, witchcraft can be historical or modern, real or fictional, secular or religious.   A word that can mean anything actually means nothing, so if we are going to use it we should probably come up with an idea of what the common threads are. 

The first and most obvious would be the practice of magic, conceived of as supernatural or natural.  Many modern witches, when differentiating Wicca from witchcraft (a very common confusion) would point to this distinction.  "Wicca is a religion, witchcraft is the practice of magic".  But that definition is problematic as well.

After all, if my definition of magic stands, namely "symbolic action meant to facilitate the manifestation in the real world of the magician's intent" then it becomes clear that many people who would not call themselves witches are practicing magic.  Intercessory prayer, so common among the Evangelicals with whom I grew up, could not be defined in any other way.  People pray for a spiritual entity to intervene on their behalf in times of need (or simply desire).  Those Evangelicals would be loathe to call themselves witches, and many self-identified witches would be equally loathe to accept them in our (their? the?) ranks.   Another point of contention would be many ceremonial magicians (Kabalah, Golden Dawn, etc.) who would also consider it an insult to be referred to as a "witch".  

So if magic is not sufficient for defining witchcraft, what is the distinguishing factor?  Well, I have an idea.  In all anthropological forms and modern manifestations, witchcraft seems to be the practice of magic in an unofficial spiritual framework.  In general terms, most societies show a sharp divide between what is officially sanctioned and what actually happens on the ground on one level or another.   The "official" language of a country may only be spoken by a minority of the population (i.e. English in Puerto Rico,  French in Haiti) and the "informal (unofficial) economy" might be the primary economic sector!   I think something similar happens to phenomena known as "witchcraft" in modern societies.  Witchcraft is simply a reflection of the same official(artificial)/unofficial (real) dichotomy applied to magic.  Witchcraft is unofficial spirituality,--bootleg magic.

Most African-Americans have historically been Protestant Christians.  And yet, the practice of Hoodoo, folk magic, was quite common.    Hoodoo doctors and rootworkers offered services to their communities, presumably in many cases to people who considered themselves Protestants and also went to churchSantería practitioners often provided their services in communities where people consider themselves Catholics. In the context of the United States, both served an oppressed population (African-Americans and Latinos respectively).  

Socioeconomic status of practitioners is an important clue in this regard.  In most cases, ceremonial magicians have deliberately distanced themselves from folk magic practitioners and aligned themselves with the dominant religion.  The actual practitioners have tended to be people of privilege--male, white and highly-educated in many parts of Europe.  They considered themselves an elite spiritual society, but still within the dominant spiritual power structures.  A comparison between ceremonial magicians and witches might be akin to comparing a special forces unit and a vigilante group.  Both are small groups that use force, but only the force of the first group is considered legitimate; force by the second group is not.  If you want an example, a blogpost by Peregrin Wildoak on "Practical Magic" gives the view of one ceremonial magician on magical practice that many would call witchcraft. 

 Something interesting to note is that the more officially-sanctioned a magical practice is, the less likely it is to be called witchcraft.  The most obvious example is the Christian Church, but take for example Wicca.  As Wicca grows in official acceptance, with legally-recognized chaplains and churches, more and more Wiccans shy away from the title "witches" even though Gerald Gardener originally called the religion "witchcraft".   If Wicca survives another hundred years, it would not surprise me if it nominally cut all ties with "witchcraft".   (If you compare early Christianity with its modern varieties, you will realize that stranger things have happened.)

This is something alluded to by Miguel A. De la Torre in his book Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America.  He denounces the fact that Santería is also referred to as "witchcraft" by many members of the mainstream religion.
 "The French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu contends that 'sorcery' and 'magic' are names imposed upon the religions of those existing on the margins of society in order to disqualify them.  Those who do this naming, of course, use the legitimating term 'religion' to refer to their own brand of sorcery and magic.2"

Indeed, magic seems to be like language.  Just as the prestige of a language variety is only defined by the prestige of its users, the prestige of a magical system is defined by the prestige of its practitioners. Witchcraft is magical practice outside of the official and prestigious religious or spiritual power structures.  This is not necessarily dependent on the use of "harmful", "baneful" or "black magic" by the practitioner in question.  Reputed "good witches", or so-called benevolent low-magic practitioners such as the "cunning folk" in Britain were seen by the dominant religious authorities (albeit not by the local populations) to be in cohorts with the Devil, even though the community generally acknowledged them to be helpful. 

 Also like language, boundaries between the prestige and non-prestige varieties are enforced, but in an unequal way.   The prestige variety always has more leeway to enter the space of the non-prestige variety.  If a non-prestige variety is seen as encroaching on the territory of the prestige variety, then its users are seen as socially disruptive.

It is this transgressive aspect which defines witchcraft for me.  A witch was not just a magical practitioner: she was an "uppity" woman.  Witchcraft is magic + transgression.  This transgression often takes the form of gender norms.  I feel transgressive and adhere to the idea, but not out of a simple, adolescent-type desire to "rebel".  My opinion is that it is often in transgression of categories, or even the combination of contradictory categories that higher truths can be found.  In different points of my life, if people asked me if I believed in God, I would say "yes" or "no".  Now I'm in the comfortable position of being able to say "both", or call out the person for asking me a leading question.  The question of whether God exists depends on your definition of God; it is not at all a neutral, straightforward concept. Most people are so steeped in their cultural, pre-packaged definition of God, that they are blind to its influence.  Stepping outside of that consideration is what allows for a greater truth to be understood.

Witches use what works in their magic, whatever symbols and available materials allow them to transcend their normal, expected social and personal limits. In my practice, I think that allows me a more integrated perspective of self, a greater sense of personal power, and a more enlightened view of the universe, which I still am quite far away from understanding.  But every little bit helps, and that's what the "witch" label does for me.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Honoring the Ancestors

Yoruba bronze head sculpture, Ife, Nigeria c. 12th century A.D. from Wikipedia


Greetings everyone.

I hope you enjoyed the Cross-Quarter, Samhain, Halloween, All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Day, The Day of the Dead or however you want to call it.

Since it goes with the season and has become a significant part of my practice, I thought I would talk about ancestors and honoring them.

Firstly, one of the constants in the portrayal of witches seems to be that witches have allies.  This ally is most commonly an animal in European witchcraft---the well-known familiar black cat that any witch worth her salt has to do her bidding.   In Mexican brujería, the assistance of animals represented in spirit form is vital.  From what I understand, it is common for the more shamanic side to include the transformation into animals in the dream world as well as to have a host of animal spirits as protectors.   In the magical traditions of the African diaspora, however, the first allies that any practitioner should know, before even approaching the Gods (Orishas, Lwas, etc.) are the ancestors.  (Egún in Yoruba).

Paying homage to the ancestors in a regular fashion, not just on the Cross-Quarter, is an idea that made sense to me as a way to deepen and enhance my practice.   I have heard others say that ancestors protect them, as the closest entities to them on the spiritual plane.  This has a rational explanation to my point of view.   The African diaspora is made up of people whose national and cultural identities have been under assault since the beginning of said diaspora.   This assault doubtlessly had and continues to have dissociative effects on one's sense of self.  Recalling the ancestors is a way to maintain a sense of being  "psychically whole" and grounded.    In a more general sense, having a living representation of ancestors reminds us that we are part of an evolutionary process which also heals our disassociation from death. Wonderment at the fact that we are part of whole, in my opinion, is what allows there to be magic and any kind of spirituality.  When we achieve it, we genuinely feel that we are connected to the rest of the universe.  Honoring ancestors is easy ways to do that.

So I decided to make a separate altar in my house to celebrate my dearly departed.  I decided that there were three types of ancestors that I wanted to honor:  physical, inspirational, and departed animals.    The physical ancestor I represented was my grandmother who died two years ago and is, as far as my dearly departed go, my closest relative.  I  placed a picture of her when she was younger and her obituary on one end of my altar.   My intellectual ancestor was James Baldwin.  I never met him, but my mother apparently did.  In any case, I felt affinity with his life; a black, gay American ex-pat in Europe.  I've read some of his books and put a list of his quotes under his photo.   And finally, my animal could only be the faithful, handsome, happy dog I grew up with.

On at least a weekly basis, I perform a simple ceremony although this is the first time I've described it as such.  I light an altar candle,  I change the clear bowl of water and I make offerings.  I burn sweet grass for all of my ancestors, given the traditional uses of the plant in Native American cultures.  I pour rum as a libation, which is fairly common in the Caribbean. My grandmother loved sweets but was diabetic and had to cut back.  So I place sweet things on a plate for her. knowing they can no longer hurt her.  And I've placed dog treats on a plate for my dog.  I often say words as I leave the offerings.   This regular ritual has given new life to my practice.

I've found it to be calming and beneficial.  I recommend it. 


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Effective placebo effect...implications for magic?

A very interesting article that was posted on a group website that I'm a part of about the placebo effect.  The placebo effect to a naturalistic magician is obviously very interesting, so I'm posting it in case anyone wants to take a look.

Placebo: Unmarked drug capsules

It is an article that appeared a couple of years ago in The Guardian titled "Placebo effect works even when patients know they are getting a scam drug".  It tells of a group of irritable bowel syndrome patients who received a placebo while being fully aware that it was a placebo. 



 The article states that:
The second group was told by the doctors that they would be taking "placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS-symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes".
"Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed on the bottle," said Kaptchuk. "We told the patients that they didn't have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills."
The results, published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, showed that the placebo pills were more effective at relieving symptoms compared with doing nothing at all.

In the same newspaper, there is an opinion article written by Ed Halliwell which is also relevant--"Let's be honest about placebo".

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pride celebration and thoughts

In addition to being Lammas or the half-way point between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox, yesterday was the last of July.  July is a month where typically LGBT and/or gay pride is celebrated in many parts of Europe, North America and other places.   I thought this post would be a good occasion to talk about LGBTI people in magical and shamanic practices.

For some time I had been aware of the fact that it was quite common in many aboriginal cultures in the Americas for gay, lesbian, bisexuals and transgendered people to assume ostensibly spiritual roles in the community as shamans, diviners, seers, spirit-workers or spell-casters.  In Native American and First Nation communities, the term generally used in English is of "two-spirited people".  The Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society, an advocacy group for two-spirits quotes Roscoe's Living the Spirit:  A Gay American Indian Anthology in defining the concept:

In Native American culture, before the Europeans came to the America's, "two-spirit" referred to an ancient teaching. This type of cross-gender identity has been documented in over 155 tribes across Native North America (Roscoe 1988).  Our Elders tell us of people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits, that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare and married other women, as there were men who married other men. These individuals were looked upon as a third and fourth gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honoured and revered. Two-spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers, the medicine people, the nannies of orphans, the care givers (Roscoe 1988). They were respected as fundamental components of our ancient culture and societies. This is our guiding force as well as our source of strength. This is the heart of Two-Spirited People of the 1st Nations (2 Spirit Nation of Ontario).

What I would eventually find out is that this pattern is quite common in many cultures across the world, spanning multiple continents. Daan Van Kapenhout stated as much in this interview from 1995:

Through his costume, the shaman relayed the message: "I am not a man, I am not a woman, I am human." The Siberian shaman costume expressed that all people are basically the same, that sex, age and status are unimportant in their essence. To become a shaman, one had to be both man and woman, because a person should be the sum total of all human experiences. This idea was taken very seriously in many Siberian - and some Native American - tribes. As part of the training of the shaman-to-be, he or she was expected to live for some time - anywhere from weeks to years - as a member of the opposite sex. During this period, the aspirant had to think, act and dress like a man if she was a woman, like a woman if he was a man. If the candidate found this task too difficult, he or she could not continue training to be a shaman.
Often, a person who successfully passed this part of their shamanic "examination" would chose to continue living as a member of the other sex. In some parts of Siberia, this was even expected of all male shamans. Homosexuality and traditional - Siberian - shamanism have always been connected. Many homosexuals do not feel "at home" in the role expected of them by society, and this lack of full identification with this role makes it relatively easy for them to drop it in order to try a new one. Many traditional shamanic cultures offered their homosexual members the possibility of living with a partner: a gay or lesbian could become a shaman and change sex, afterwards being able to marry a person of the same biological sex. Usually such transformed shamans would be looked upon with awe, fear or suspicion. They were considered to have very strong and special magical powers and carried distinctive and important responsibilities, yet their shaman costumes were androgynous, just like those of the "normal" shamans.

To my way of thinking, this idea of LGBTs being magical or particularly suited to be spiritual leaders or members of a shamanic order in the community goes back to a concept which is basic to any definition of magic: transformation or change.  Because one of the most ancient and natural methods of effecting change is through reproduction--the uniting of male and female.  Some of the most universal magical tools (i.e. the broom, mortar and pestle, bell) are symbolic unions of male and female essences.  This something alluded to by Julika Iles in her book The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, in which she states:

Female and male energies, yin and yang, are considered the most powerful radiant energies on Earth.  Unifying these male and female forces provides the spark for creation, and what is a magical spell after all but an act of creation? Instead of a new baby, ideally new possibilities, solutions, hopes, and outcomes are born from each magic spell.

From that vantage point, it would make sense that many peoples would consider it a requirement for someone to have both male and female essences as part of them in order to intercede magically on behalf of the community.  Someone who naturally has both could be considered naturally imbued with powers of change and transformation---inherently magical, as it were. 

I am very wary of making broad generalizations of that type which could imply that an entire group of people (i.e. LGBTI) are inherently more attuned to magic than others.  The perspective reflected by many of these cultures, however, offers a very useful insight.

 Our societies tend to ridicule effeminate men and shun masculine women.  Even in the gay community it is quite common for more masculine men (and not so masculine men) to ridicule more effeminate ones.  This can only be an example of what psychologists call projection.  I believe that most people have elements of their behavior and personality that are masculine and feminine, regardless of their biological sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.  For some people that "ratio" might be clearly towards one direction (90% "masculine", 10% "feminine") or it might be much more balanced (60% "feminine", 40% "masculine").  If the first example is a biological male, it would be comparatively easy for him to simply suppress any expression of his feminine side, not just in terms of behavior, but also in terms of conscious perception.   If the second example is a biological woman, she will face social pressure to suppress an even bigger part of her personality.  If either one of them were magical practitioners, I would tend to think that suppressing either side would be rather costly.  If magic has a huge psychological component and resonating with the deep self is necessary to be effective, it would follow that the less connected with the self one is, the harder it is to make magic.  If we suppress our natural masculinity or femininity,  we are suppressing a particularly potent source of magic; our own internal sense of creativity as symbolized by the joining of both "essences" inside of us.  And that seems unnecessarily hindering, regardless of whether we're gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered or intersexed.



Further Reading:

Carpenter, Edward.  Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk.  1921.  Very old, but very concise and interesting read.

 
P.S.  Just in case you're wondering about the candle--I used that for my personal pride celebration.  It included petitions for each of the colors of the rainbow related to the LGBTI community, the world in general and myself.  Then there were drums and dancing...
  






Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ode to Simplicity

There's something to be said for keeping it simple and quiet.

I find that the longer I practice, the more I am attracted to simple and subtle rituals or spells.

At the very beginning, when my practice was much more heavily influenced by Wicca than it is now, I made an effort to carry out rituals with full ceremonial flare: ritual bath, garb, any and every tool, circles, cone of power, cake and ale ceremony, etc. I was very excited by all of those features, enjoyed them and it no doubt helped me achieve a productive mental state.

However, it was just as certainly not without drawbacks. The first was time. Going through that entire process took around three hours, which I simply did not always have. Secondly, I was at some point uncomfortable thinking that I would be so dependent on a complex set of materials and tools because one never knows when they might not be available. This partially contributes to the third on the list of drawbacks--it seemed contradictory to me in many ways.

I mean, what better way to save the environment and shun the excessive materialism in my culture than to constantly buy all kind of expensive accoutrements?  What better way to get in touch with myself than to put on different clothes (or get a different name)? (By the way, this is only for me--I'm not criticizing anyone who finds that it works for them).

Don't get me wrong; I do have my supplies (i.e. herbs, candles) and I realize that this is often part of the practice.  It's even part of the practice that I enjoy a lot.  But there is also something to be said about making do with what you have.  I would even go so far as to say that this is one of the defining characteristics of witchcraft in comparison with other magical systems.

Many other systems, particularly of the ceremonial variety, depend on the correct performance of complex and elaborate rituals, often invoking all manner of higher spiritual beings.  Witchcraft, however, has always had as a primary (and sometimes exclusive) component the idea of dealing with everyday problems in simple ways---giving people common, local herbs for common every day illnesses, for example.  There is also the idea that is commonly known in NeoPagan communities  as "hiding secrets in plain sight".  As a natural introvert, I really like that idea.  You can do magic with the clothes you wear, what you have in your pockets, how you decorate your home...and no one has to be the wiser.   I'm even trying to streamline my altar. 

I could elaborate further, but the point was to keep it simple.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Atheist Hymnal, pt. 2: 13 Moon songs

Greetings on this beautiful day of the full moon.

What better time to continue with my Atheist Hymnal, alluded to in my previous post as well as my moon liturgy as mentioned in another post. So here you go, thirteen of my favorite moon songs, obviously in honor of the thirteen full moons in a year.  I hope you enjoy.


Moonlight Sonata - Beethoven
Officially known as Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2, this has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed.  Haunting, captivating, mysterious, steadily in motion, and evocative.  There is nothing like looking up at a full moon while hearing the entirety of this piece. I only wish I had the piano skills to play it.





It's Only a Paper Moon - Ella Fitzgerald
 "Say it's only a paper moon/sailing over a cardboard sea/but it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me."  An uplifting, but grounded song (no doubt helped by Ella's hearty voice) which to me can be interpreted in a very relevant way.  We've all read statements about how magic is only real if you believe in it, but this song takes it to another level, in my opinion.  This song refers to the the moon and the sea--existing objects--as if they were fake without belief.  To me, that speaks to the need for balance. While we cannot and should not ignore our external, objective reality, if we ignore our internal, subjective, personal reality then even the realest and most objective of things seem "fake" because we're not fully connected to ourselves.

Full Moonlight Dance - Alice di Micele
A song from the album Circle of Women which is chocked full of spiritual songs from varying traditions and cultures.  It certainly makes me want to skip through the meadows in the dark of night.








 

Can't Fight the Moonlight - Leanne Rhymes
 You want a song which mentions and alludes to  the moon's association with magic, romantic love, and its thrall on human and natural cycles alike with country/rock-pop back beat to boot? Well, here you go.







Moon River - Audrie Hepburn
A classic from Breakfast with Tiffany.













Moonlight Serenade - Frank Sinatra
"I stand at your gate and the song that I sing is of moonlight".  A threshold and the moonlight; two elements of importance in most magical systems.












Luz de Luna - Chavela Vargas
 This bittersweet but moving song once again by a woman, one of the greatest figures of ranchera music, to a woman whose presence she equates with "moonlight" and whose absence she equates to being weighed down by chains.  







Hijo de la Luna - Bella Pérez & Voice Male
A mythological story explaining moon phases that evokes love, race, class, misunderstanding.  It tells the story of Gypsy woman who prays to the moon to bring her a husband. The moon says it will, as long as the Gypsy woman gives the moon her firstborn as payment.  The Gypsy woman asks what use the moon could have with a human child and the moon asked if she could really love a child if she would trade it for a husband.  She gets married, but has an albino child (i.e. white like the moon).  Since they are both darker-skinned, the husband denies paternity and kills his wife for dishonoring him.  He abandons the baby on a mountain where the moon than takes care of him.  The moon wanes if the child cries in order to rock him.  This song was originally sung by the Spanish band Mecano, but I like this version by Bella Pérez, because it is a capella and this video tells the story more clearly than the original.

Luna - Juanes

Love divination under the moon, Colombian-rock style from one of my all-time favorite albums.









Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy

 Relaxing, evocative of the soothing effect of the moon without being boring.  Subtle stimulation. Like magic, like the moon.   







Moon Song by Norah Jones
"Want to find out where the moon goes
When it leaves the western sky
And night dissolves again to morning
Azure turns to gold
Azure turns to gold".









Blue Moon- Elvis Presley

 "Blue Moon/You saw me standing alone/without a dream in my heart/without a love of my own".  Unlike some love songs about the moon which can be depressing, this song shows that remembering the moon from time to time can have its fringe benefits.







 

Fly Me to the Moon - Frank Sinatra

  And to finish off, Frankie, once again.





Sunday, July 1, 2012

Updates


Witchy Raven - ATHEIST WITCH EVEN MY FAVORITE GODDESS WOULD BE AN ATHEIST, IF SHE WEREN't A GODDESS Firstly, there was a problem with the Followers interface which has now been fixed.  So if you like what you see here, please feel free to join.

Secondly, I've found a couple of nice essays and blog entries online that specifically refer to the issue of Atheist witchcraft.  One is from Heather, who posted a nice essay on her blog wisegrrl.com called "How to be an Atheist Witch". Another one is called "Talking to the Gods as an Atheist Pagan" by Amber Magpie at Witchvox. Another blogpost would be an essay from chelseacheshirecat titled "A bit about my religious beliefs".

I've also found a series of funny memes from WitchRaven about secular witchcraft.  So I decided to make one for chuckles myself.  What do you think?
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be blogging about these topics: my anti-media manipulation spell, the continuation of my atheist hymnal, the image of the witch, gender, book and media reviews and others. 

Well, that's all for now, but I'll be back soon!

 






Thursday, May 31, 2012

My humanistic and naturalistic interpretation of the Pentacle/Pentagram


I thought I'd just do a short post about what the pentagram means to me. As even a cursory Google search will reveal, the Pentacle, or a Pentagram (i.e. 5-pointed star often in a circle) is a symbol that has been used by many cultures, religions and magical systems for many purposes and in many forms. So it is interesting that in modern North America (and to some extent in Europe) it is mostly associated with Satanism (if inverted) and Wicca (when turned right-side-up), in that order. Wiccans rightfully point out that it was never historically associated with Satanism and consider this association to be a perversion of their symbol of faith.




File:Pentacle 2.svgI'm not a Wiccan. I may have taken a great deal of inspiration from Wicca, but I have my own practice. Nevertheless, I have a pentacle on my altar and I wear a silver pentacle necklace around my neck. Why have I kept this symbol which is likely to be interpreted ostentatiously as a symbol of faith? According to the most common Wiccan correspondences, the pentacle is the tool representing the element of earth and the five points represent Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Spirit (at the very top). Another take is that the position of the pentacle facing up would represent spirit over matter, whereas the upside-down pentacle would represent the more controversial matter over spirit. In some traditional covens, an upside-down pentacle is simply the representation of second-degree initiation.

File:Pentagram and human body (Agrippa).jpg
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's De occulta philosophia libri tres.
While I was deciding whether to keep the Pentacle, I remembered I had seen a picture of a Pentacle that had inspired me once. When I found it again on Wikipedia, it hit me. The Pentacle is a perfect symbol for naturalistic humanism.

The Pentacle is round like the planet and continuous like the universe. It is in that universe and on that planet that humanity makes its home. Humanity has the innate desire to make its special identity known to the universe and tends to place itself at the center. But human existence without the universe is impossible. Humanity cannot thrive by attempting to superimpose itself upon the universe or disconnect from it entirely. It is only through harmony with that universe, determined through knowledge and acceptance of its basic parameters that humanity can affirm its existence with any sense of fulfillment, dignity and purpose. The lines of the pentacle star are usually the same width and style as the circle used to connect the five points. Similarly, humanity is made of the same building blocks of all matter in the universe. When humanity realizes this, humanity realizes that not only is the universe humanity, but humanity is the universe.  Affirming the universe is affirming the self and viceversa.  To me, this is the essence of both positive spirituality and naturalistic magic.

So that's why I'm keeping it. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth by John Michael Greer


Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology

Here is the first in a series of reviews that I hope to include in the blog.


Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth by
John Michael Green
Published by Weiser Books an imprint of www.redwheelweiser.com
It is an extremely rare treat to find a book that talks about the dynamics of current times, naturalism, ecology and magic in a way that is lucid, credible, cohesive and inspired.  Mystery Teachings is one of them.

We all know what "mystery teachings" are; the supposedly secret and sometimes esoteric ways to improve our lot in life and our mental and physical well-being.  So common are these schools that Green assumes that his audience knows them and doesn't really bother naming names.  Rather, he focuses on the common denominators. His assertion is that many of these teachings have been either distorted or misunderstood by their adherents who have taken the belief in concepts such as positive thinking and the Law of Attraction to its untenable and illogical extreme.  Namely, he refers to the belief that it is enough to simply "want" enough for the universe to give us something and it will do so, for an unspecified amount of time and in unlimited quantities.  However, events such as the burst of the housing bubble and the economic crisis clearly destroyed that illusion for many who, no pun intended, placed their stock in it.  The effect of positive thinking is part of those mystery teachings, and indeed part of the truth of the human experience.  But only a part of it.  To understand the full nature of ourselves, Greer says that we need to understand the nature of our universe--we need to understand the nature of nature itself.

Greer summarizes the mystery teachings in a list of seven laws that govern nature:
The Law of Wholeness
The Law of Flow

The Law of Balance
The Law of Limits
The Law of Cause and Effect
The Law of the Planes
The Law of Evolution







He explains each and every law with concrete examples from nature and then applies them to human affairs.  One of my favorite examples, in my opinion, was the explanation of the Law of Flow.   He states:
Everything that exits is created and sustained by flows of matter, energy, and information that come from the whole system to which it belongs and that return to that whole system.  Participating in these flows, without interfering with them, brings health and wholeness; blocking them, in an attempt to turn flows into accumulations, causes suffering and disruption to the whole system and all its parts.
If predators in an ecosystem accumulate, eventually the prey will become extinct.  This leads to not just the eventual extinction of the predators as well, but also the breakdown of the entire ecosystem. Likewise, the accumulation of money is toxic in human societies.

These laws are similarly applied to a chapter on magic, which is explained in terms which are very naturalistic and poetic.

Magic works, in other words, because it speaks the symbolic language of the deep self.  Every action done in a magical working--be it the speaking of a word, the movement of a hand, the drawing of a breath, or the construction of the image in a mage's imagination--is a symbolic action.  It means something-and something specific.  In a well-designed ritual, the meanings of these symbolic acts resonate together like the notes of a musical cord, expressing a single pattern of meaning in a complete and balanced form.  Seen in this light, magic is a way of unifying the self on all its levels and directing it toward a single end.  This combination of unity and direction makes ritual the mage's principal tool for action on any level of experience.
 This chapter is rich with thought-provoking morsels.  He addresses the limits and ethics of magic, not in the preachy, simplistic way that many authors have, but by once again linking the discussion to his aforementioned Seven Laws and explaining them in a logical, straightforward, comprehensive fashion.  In his last two chapters, he refers to The Spiritual Ecologies of Initiation [to mysteries] and [the human perception of] History to once again give a nuanced and, in my view, accurate vision of these two subjects. 

In summary, I cannot recommend this book more highly.  Despite its relatively short length (I read it in a day), I believe it is a rare pearl of wisdom, useful for anyone trying to follow a spiritual path of enlightenment in a way that is consistent with reality.   Both the e-book (Kindle) and the papercopy versions are available at  Amazon.com



Monday, April 30, 2012

Why I love Ritual Post at Humanistic Paganism

To start off, I feel I should point to an article of mine that was published on another site, Humanistic Paganism.  It was an article I had written quite some time ago.  Hope you enjoy.


Why I Love Ritual by Atheist Witch.

Happy Beltane and new things to come



Greetings everyone.

I'd taken an extended hiatus from this blog for a number of reasons, and I thought now would be a good time to start writing again.  Nightfall today will mark the start of Beltane, cross-quarter holiday between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.  In some traditions, it marks the beginning of Summer and fertility.  Since some of my thoughts (and only some) about life, my philosophy, and craft have come to fruition now after more than a year of practice, I feel comfortable sharing a bit more.

Witchcraft has been defined by some as a "shamanistic" practice, one that straddles the physical world and the world of the spirits.  This is notably the underlying philosophy of "hedge witchcraft", but is a common concept among witches of various traditions. The idea of straddling worlds, even without a belief in spirits, is something I've always considered germane.  The whole point of witchcraft with a naturalistic viewpoint is to straddle the mind or internal reality and the physical world so as to effect change while not losing your grip on either one.  On this path, I've gone back and forth between tradition and innovation, rationality and a personal sense of wonder, between rigidity and irreverence. Striking a balance between those two while maintaining enough fluidity to adapt has been a challenge at times.  I've been hesitant to share, believing that until I felt that I had perfectly navigated each and every one of those extremes that perhaps I shouldn't say anything.  There was also a part of me that was afraid of cheapening my craft by sharing too much.  Intimacy goes hand-in-hand with exclusivity to a certain extent, and while I do intend to maintain a certain level of secrecy (the subject of a future post), I will continue to share my ideas, my truth, my philosophy, any examples that I see from others so as to foster an exchange.   The idea is two-fold.  Writing about certain aspects of my worldview helps me articulate them and come to an evermore fresher and solid understanding, and having others read and comment upon it might help them along their journey as well.  


So once again, Happy Beltane, enjoy the sunshine today if you're lucky to live in a place where there's sunlight right now.  I have a number of topics planned, and I look forward to hearing from and seeing you again.