TIP: Social Justice and Witchcraft


There is a lot going on in the world these days that can quickly raise the public’s collective ire, affecting not only our hearts, but our minds as well. One only has to turn on the news, or check our tweets, tumblr pages, Facebook or other social media to see these stories and with such insta-access to information, it can sometimes be extremely easy to rush to judgement, and/or rush to action before all facts are known. Even at times when it might seem like we have all the right information, the situation can change just a short time later, and we find that erroneous news was posted, or of course there are always situations where trolls or other malicious individuals (or groups) choose to purposefully post misinformation for a variety of reasons.

In these cases, there is often a quick call for “justice”, or a call to “take action” to right the wrongs being done, or to curse those who are perpetuating such wrongs, etc… In other cases, general calls may be put out for people to “do something”… anything to help make the situation better. There is nothing inherently wrong with this – wrongs should be righted, people who are in need should be helped, and curses can be effective in situations where other options have failed. The key in all of these, however, is to stop first and think carefully before taking any action.

Emotions, particularly such as the sadness and anger that are often present in times of harsh injustice, make for powerfully energetic fuel for spellwork, and it is reasonable to want to use those emotions when they are raw, and their peak for better effectiveness. The issue with that though, is that when our emotions are running high, we are less likely to be thinking clearly, which can:

  • cause us to make decisions which may or may not be the best choices (or most helpful overall) to make
  • cause us to act erratically and/or less focused, which can affect our spellwork in a number of ways as well
  • cause us to do something that we may regret later when we’ve had time to cool down

Additionally, if we rush to action, without allowing sufficient time for all the correct facts on a situation to come to light, we run the risk of taking the wrong action, making the situation worse (even if we were trying to help), or particularly in the case of cursing – risk targeting the wrong person/group of people (in the case where an initial person names may or may not actually be the one(s) responsible). For example: with the on-going issues regarding the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, MO, posts were circulating within a day or two purportedly stating the name of the officer involved. These later were determined to be erroneous, when the police finally released the officer’s actual name. So in those cases if someone took immediate action based on the initial posts, more harm than good could have come from that action.

Another issue is focus. When a large group of people take a variety of different actions, often spellwork may end up working at cross-purposes. Not only that, there may be cases where those working a spell aren’t being specific enough. Using the water situation in Detroit as an example: rather than doing a ritual focused on ensuring that the water of those in Detroit, whose water had been shut off, was restored to them (which is what should have been done – or something similar), potentially there were people just generally working with the intention that the people of Detroit have enough water, or just have water (or something equally vague). And I’m not saying this is what actually happened, but I found it really odd that with the situation that was going on – people not having water – suddenly Detroit was flooded with record breaking rainfall. Just something that really made me think about magic and focus, and the consequences of not properly phrasing one’s spells. The old adage seems appropriate… be careful what you wish for.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t take action. Absolutely we should, and with every tool available to us – witchcraft being one of those tools. The point is that we have to think carefully before we do. Don’t join in with the “mob” mentality, grabbing our torches and pitchforks before critically examining the situation ourselves, and researching all available facts and evidence. Just because you see a post circulating on your dashboard, does not make it true – don’t let your emotions get the best of you, when it comes to making sound judgements and crafting your spells.

TIP – Wiccan Rede


When it comes to Wicca, there are many aspects that are often misunderstood, and the the “Wiccan Rede” is a big one. Considering that it often incorporated into Neo-Pagan practices (without being properly understood), it’s sometimes a bit scary to contemplate the ways in which people attempt to apply it, not only to themselves, but to those around them. What many people don’t seem to realize is that the term “rede” simply means advice, which means that the “Wiccan Rede” is not an unbreakable law, or even a strict requirement – it is just exactly what it states it is… a bit of guidance along the path.

As to the “Rede” itself – “an ye harm none, do as ye will” (and yes it is just those 8 words, not the longer poem that many quote) it doesn’t actually tell us that we can’t cause harm, it just says – “if you harm none, do what you want”. So clearly not causing harm is acceptable, however if we look closely at that statement, at no point does it say “if it causes harm, don’t do it”. The truth is, that as long as one has carefully considered one’s actions and is willing to accept the consequences of taking those actions, then one can do whatever one feels is necessary. In the end, it’s all about taking responsibility for one’s actions, not about prohibiting a particular action when it is needed.

It is always acceptable to defend oneself from harm, and to protect one’s family and loved ones, and the Rede was definitely not meant to imply that one cannot do that. Too many people take it as some sort of blanket prohibition, which it really isn’t, and in truth it is impossible to go through life without causing harm to someone or something.

For more information on the origins of the Rede, and the meaning behind it, you can check out the following… The Wiccan Rede: A Historical Journey

TIP: Books of Shadows


Hey guys. Been a while, huh? Sorry about that. Well, here we are with a new tip. This week we’re talking about Books of Shadows.

A Book of Shadows is a personal book containing rituals, spells, poetry, experiences and information that a person comes across in their studies. It’s a term primarily used in Neo-Pagan witchcrafts of various types, but I’ve met non-witch Pagans who use the term also for their personal religious book. It’s usually considered distinct from a spiritual journal and reserved for things of import that are representative of one’s craft. (Or indeed one’s faith.) To some, it can serve as a self-compiled set of scriptures; to others, it’s a recipe book of all their favourite spells, oils and tinctures.

The term comes to us through Wicca. Gardner reportedly discovered the term “book of shadows” in a magazine and snapped it up for his own use. In Wicca (and in some other initiatory or semi-initiatory witchcrafts that follow Wicca’s lead) the Book of Shadows is copied out by each initiate, in his or her own “hand of write”. The content of each BoS is the same, but each Wiccan can add his or her own impressions after the main text. Some Wiccans will refer to the Wiccan BoS by capitalising it (Book of Shadows, vs book of shadows) but the term is one any witch can use. (This includes non-Pagans!)

Don’t feel like you have to have one, though. Whether or not a person creates a book of shadows is up to them. Many people will create one as a compendium of notes when they are starting out – for this reason many more experienced witches will recommend starting out with a ring-binder of shadows instead, so that things are easy to re-arrange, add to or remove. It’s pretty gutting to buy a fabulous expensive book of shadows and have to rip out several pages – or trash the entire thing – years later when your craft and your ideas change! Regardless, keeping one is a personal choice, and many people prefer sticking with an exercise book for their notes and keeping a spiritual journal. And unless you’re a part of a specific tradition, there isn’t anything you must (or can’t) include in yours. Aside from the term applying mostly to a book of craft work rather than more of a journal, everything in it is up to you. Some people will have tarot spreads, some will have the Charge of the Goddess, others will have recipes for oils.

It’s also common now to have, instead of (or as well as) a book, a folder on your computer or a flash drive to store the information you come across and wish to keep. People also use blogs for this purpose – some private, some public.

There are other terms for the book of shadows, many of which have their own implications. A “Grimoire” tends to refer to an old book of ceremonial magic, while some use “Book of Mirrors” to refer to a book of just one’s thoughts and experiences – more of a spiritual journal, no spells or rites. Others will use this term as a straight synonym. Another, perhaps less popular, name is “Book of Light”. The Seax-Wican book is called “The Tree”. You can call yours whatever you like, but “Book of Shadows” does seem to remain the most popular.

For my part, I’ve heard that “Book of Shadows” is meant to imply that what one reads in it – rituals, thoughts etc. – are just the shadows, the silhouettes of the practice and craft itself. Valiente explains that it is so named “because its contents can only be this world’s shadows of the Other World”. This is one of those things that doesn’t need to be one or the other; I imagine the term means many different things to different people.

Do you have a book of shadows, reader? If so, what form does it take, and what does it contain?

TIP: Mercury In Retrograde


It looks like Mercury is going into retrograde yet again, so speak clearly and take time to understand, folks 😉

You may be seeing a lot of these warnings about. For those unfamiliar with the concept, here’s a bit of a low-down:

When a planet is “retrograde”, it appears to move backwards across our sky. This is just because of how that planet is moving relative to how the Earth is moving, and it happens three times a year.

In astrology, the planet Mercury, like its namesake, is related to communication. Thus when Mercury is in retrograde, one might find oneself with a sudden inability to make oneself easily understood, with greater problems in writing or communicating, or continually misinterpreting what others are saying.

I’m not sure how I feel about astrology generally, but I’ve had the retrograde kick me in the arse a few times, so I tend to pay a little more attention to how I’m communicating, and take a second look if I take offence to something, just in case I have misread.

TIP: Discussing Religion


In terms of everyday conversations, the topic of religion really shouldn’t come up all too often. There are exceptions of course – the occasional nosy family member, friend or co-worker, or that random stranger you just met, that wants your whole life story in 10 seconds or less. However when it does, there really is not any need for anyone to know all the juicy details of your practices, especially if you feel that the person you are talking to will be less than welcoming about your choices.

While we can understand completely not wanting to stay in the “broom closet”, it is best to come up with a short, concise description of what you do, and leave it at that. Truthfully among those who are intolerant (or even apathetic at best) – it might be better to dodge the question if you can (it’s none of their business anyways), however if you feel that you must answer, then just sticking with the generic “pagan” answer is really your best bet. This wouldn’t normally be something that we’d advocate (since it doesn’t mean anything really), however in this case they likely won’t know the difference, nor are they likely to care, if they are not actually open to learning more about other faiths/practices.

Among those who are like-minded, or those who are truly interested in learning more, you can expand your description a bit, and go into as much detail as you are comfortable with. However you will still likely find those who will question you about your beliefs and practices, but this isn’t always a bad thing, as that is usually how we learn and grow in our practices.

In either case, try not to be defensive if someone asks you something. If you are going to be open about your religious/spiritual practices, especially if they are something other than what most people consider “normal”, then you have to be willing to deal with the consequences of that – both positive and negative. If you can’t discuss your practices calmly, and with confidence, others who are less tolerant of such paths are more likely to seize on that, and work extra hard at their attempts to steer you back on to (what they see as) the “right” path.

Religious and spiritual practices are very personal, and can be difficult to explain to others who have not been through the same experiences. Too often we diminish the sacredness, and ineffable qualities that are so much a part of many paths, when we try to explain too much. So sticking to the basics, rather than extensive details, is usually the best course of action, when the topic comes up.

TIP: Expanding Our Horizons


This week’s TIP comes via a recent rant. It is a perfectly legitimate rant, because it‘s something that happens all the time, it’s frustrating to see when it does, and really, it lessens all of us when it occurs. Especially, when you consider the wealth of knowledge on different cultures and practices that we are missing out on because of it. I think (except for those that it affects directly), we’ve probably all done it at one time or another, but this doesn’t make it right. It just means that we all need to be more careful and actively make the effort to try to change the way we think when it comes to those we are interacting with.

This doesn’t apply to everyone (to be sure), however there seems to be a tendency within the Pagan community to assume that everyone is Wiccan, or on a Wicca-based path, and that we all celebrate the same Sabbats around the same time, and in generally the same way. There is a bit of “tunnel vision”, often forgetting that there are many different paths, all who have their own various holidays and celebrations. Not all of them are Sabbat related (or called Sabbats) – even if some of them are celebrated on, or around the same dates.

It’s also very frustrating to see how many people forget entirely that the Northern Hemisphere is NOT the only Hemisphere that exists. Many tend to ignore completely those Pagans who live on the “flip-side” as it were. Which means that even if they do happen to celebrate the Sabbats (which again, not all do) they will be doing so on a schedule that is completely opposite to what would be done in the Northern Hemisphere. It wouldn’t make any sense to celebrate seasonal holidays, outside of the season that they occur in, but for some reason, we often assume that those in the Southern Hemisphere do, if we even consider them at all.

So this week’s TIP is a reminder to expand our horizons just a bit. While clearly if you are discussing something with your local coven or group, it might not be such an issue, but in larger gatherings, and especially if you are participating in an online Pagan community or discussion, it’s worth the extra effort to remember that not everyone does things exactly in the same way. Nor would we want them too… imagine how boring it would be if we did.

TIP: Cults


Over the years the word “cult” has gotten a bad rap. People tend to think of cults as a group that has been brainwashed by the twisted leader to do anything and everything. And indeed, this is one definition of the word “cult”. It’s also one of the most popular uses of the term. However, within comparative religion, one may come across the term used in a more positive way; for example, Gardner referred to his religion as a “witch-cult”.

But not all cults are like that. One of the dictionary definitions of the word cult (see below) is a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols, or even, simply, formal religious worship. Under that definition, many religions can be considered cults. Another definition of cult is an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing; we use this colloquially in the context of “cult films” and so on as well as in relation to religions.

The term “cult” can also refer to the external or observable aspects of a religion, and a religion for which the neglect of these aspects would be considered impious.

Though there is often cause to bristle with indignation if one’s religion is referred to as a “cult”, it is important not to leap to the defensive when the word is used. The person using the word may not have intended any offence after all. The definition being used may not be apparent from context, so check before flaring up.

As an aside – it is wise to familiarise oneself with the signs of a dangerous cult. Not every group that identifies itself to you as, for example, Wiccan, is in fact a Wiccan group. The Cult Danger Evaluation Frame linked below should help you ascertain whether a group is a cause for worry, and if you don’t feel comfortable, stay away.

The OED on “cult”

Merriam-Webster on “cult”

Wikipedia on “cult”

The Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (with the pleasing acronym of ABCDEF)

TIP: Beyond the 101


So, these are meant to go out on Fridays but we sort of slacked off and then forgot about it. So. It’s late. *cough* Seeing as it’s only the third one that’s a bit sad, haha.

This week’s tip is about the point where you’ve read a bunch of “Neo-Paganism 101” books and you’re ready to move on to the next level of information. But when you get to the library or bookstore, you can’t find anything except more entry-level books. The more you read, the more you feel like something is missing; these books are grazing the surface of something but you can’t manage to get any deeper. What happens now, and how do you move beyond this basic information to a deeper level of practice if you don’t have a teacher?

The reason many of these books are so limited is that they’re based on Wicca. Wicca, as you may know, is an initiatory religion; there’s only so much that can be written about it, first because much is secret and second because much is experiential and can’t be accurately taught in words. Books about Wicca will necessarily be limited to a bare outline, and to get the full experience of Wicca, one must seek initiation. Many basic books on Paganism are based very much on this model and will have a lack of depth that may only become apparent once you start reaching out into other areas and realising how much information there is.

When you reach this point, therefore, there are several actions you can take. These aren’t exclusive:

The first is to branch out. Most 101 books on Paganism will be focused on a very narrow subset, usually related to witchcraft in some way or another and with a strong Wicca flavour. They will talk about circle-casting and two deities and eight Sabbats and so on. But of course, there are dozens of Pagan religions, many that have totally different holidays, different ritual forms, and far more than two deities. Some religions will have more introductory books than others, and some won’t have any, and they may not be in the same section as the books you have been reading so far. You may end up going to the myths, the history, the archaeology for your information.

The second is to find a teacher. Some Pagan religions, often religious witchcrafts, can only be properly taught in person, or in a coven, or via ritual. Not everyone is able to, or even wants to, find a teacher, but there are particular Pagan religions where this is a necessity. If this isn’t your thing or it’s not possible at the moment, it will put certain religions out of your reach.

The third is introspection and personal practice. Sometimes depth and understanding come from regular practice, particularly if you start incorporating daily or weekly exercises. Get up to watch the sun rise every day for a week, dig into the lore for prayers you can recite daily or write your own, spend time in meditation, write down all your thoughts and ideas.

The fourth is community. Discussing things with people – even if they are of a different Pagan religion to yourself, or you disagree on major issues – can give you new ideas and unlock new understandings. People can recommend websites, books, exercises, meditations; introduce you to groups and teachers; help you with difficulties you’ve been having. If there are no Pagans nearby, or you happen to dislike all the Pagans in your area, the internet is a great help.

Keep searching! There’s always more to be learned.

TIP: UPG


Many reconstructionists will be familiar with this term, but it doesn’t seem to be used as often in other Pagan religions. It’s a fantastically useful concept, so it’s our Weekly Tip. (Although at this point it looks like it’s becoming our Weekly Word Definition or something. Ah well! Forward!)

UPG stands for “Unverified Personal Gnosis”, though depending on who you ask, the U may stand for “Unsubstantiated”. Either is fine and acceptable. It refers to understandings you have of the gods (as well as concepts and situations related to your religion) that aren’t backed up by the lore (that is, mythology and so forth). For example, your interactions with Venus may have led you to believe that she likes the colour pink and offerings of sparkling grapefruit juice, or that Oðinn is not a fan of peach schnapps. There’s no mention of these things in lore (…to the best of my knowledge…), but because of some experience you’ve had in ritual or meditation, you have come to this conclusion. It may even have been a direct teaching.

UPG is a great thing, and something we should all take heed of, but it should always be understood that this is your UPG, and not something anyone else is required to accept. In discussing a deity etc., it’s always wise to alert people when something you mention is your UPG. “This is just my UPG, but I’ve always felt that….” is a good way to start. This way everyone knows where they stand, and understands what you’re saying; while they may not agree with you, many people will respect that you don’t expect them to agree with you. It also means people won’t sit there thinking “Gosh, I’ve never heard that before. I wonder where it’s written?” and spend three days going through all the lore they can find in vain.

What’s wonderful is when you have an item of UPG and you are reading through the lore and you come across the very same idea. Your UPG is now Verified. (Hooray!)

On the other hand, you may come across something in lore that directly contradicts your UPG. In this situation, you may want to reassess what you have come to understand. Hold up the two contradictory ideas and let them percolate for a while. An example of this is the apparently wide-spread feeling that Hekate is a crone goddess, while Greek lore and art portray her as a maiden.

Occasionally some conclusion you come to via UPG will be shared by others. This is SPG – Shared Personal Gnosis – or PVPG – Peer Verified Personal Gnosis. Examples of this are the Unofficial Lokablót date of April 1st and Freyja’s apparent enjoyment of strawberries. These ideas have been reached by worshippers completely independently of one another, and because they are shared by so many people they carry more weight than just your average UPG. However, they still don’t carry as much weight as lore.

Lore will always carry more weight than UPG. You don’t have to accept it over what you have come to believe, and lore isn’t necessarily gospel, but don’t expect others to trust you over the lore. On the other hand, you don’t have to accept anyone else’s UPG, either.

 

(Disclaimer: Mercury is in retrograde. Please forgive us if this is a bit confused.)

TIP: Deosil


In a few books recently I have seen the word “deosil” refer to clockwise motion, but these books are ignoring half of the world. “Deosil” does not simply mean “clockwise”; it refers to the direction in which the sun travels in the sky. This is clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, but anticlockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. This may seem strange to some, as of course the sun will always move from east to west – but below the equator the sun is in the northern half of the sky, and from this viewpoint its passage is anti-clockwise.

The word “Widdershins” can mean both anticlockwise and against the path of the sun, though in Pagan religions that use the word it tends to mean the latter.

Bonus factoid: the spelling “deosil” is rather modern and doesn’t appear in the Celtic languages. You may prefer the term “sun-wise”.