Witchy Wednesday – Cultural Influences

“What are your cultural influences?” is the topic of this week’s Witchy Wednesday.

The easy answer is UK Celtic – mostly Irish and a bit of Welsh.  My ancestry (both sides) traces back to Ireland with a bit of England and Scotland tossed in for flavour. In fact it was Irish mythology that drew me to Paganism in the first place.

The longer answer is that I have drawn influence from a great deal of places over the years.  The very first book that I picked up that talked about gods that weren’t the Christian god was a book on Greek mythology for kids.  The Olympians hold a lot of sway in the secular world, and there are some stories that I love and stay with me even though I have never really worshipped Hellenic gods.  The story of Eris and the Golden Apple is a particular favourite of mine.  I even have a golden apple that I keep near my little altar (such that it is) – the apple itself is brass, and I keep it on the window sill because its safer up there.  Apples are a big deal symbolically for me – more on that in another article … maybe.

My brother is very strongly heathen influenced, and some of those influences have made their way into my practises over the past several years.  Which isn’t all that hard to believe, considering how much Saxon/Germanic traditions hold sway in British customs.  I am in the process of getting a hold of a set of runes — runic magic is something I have wanted to study for a long time, but other things always got in the way.  There is also the correlations between Odin and the Holly King/Santa/Leader of the Wild Hunt, etc.  We are a family that loves our myths and stories.  It’s an Irish thing. ;)

Then there is, of course, Canadiana.  I love virtually all things Canadian — from Native art to hockey to Tim Hortons to the good old maple leaf, if you can put the Canadian stamp on it, I love it.  Speaking specifically of Native art, I grew up just outside of a town that was located partially on Native Reserve land, and so coastal Native art and culture were hugely influential there.  I believe that the town still goes by “The City of Totems”.

© Doug Hay
© Doug Hay – Flickr Creative Commons

In a lot of ways, coastal Native art styles have informed some of my own artwork.  I have a couple of pieces in the works that meld spirit animals in both Native and Celtic styles – sort of an expression of the similarities I have found along the way, and an expression of my own journeys to find a place to call home.  I should probably get back to work on those at some point — actually, that just gave me an idea for another project I am working on (hmm, vagueness is vague.)

Back to the topic — my cultural influences.  One thing that I loved about living in an area as multi-cultural as the lower mainland in BC is being exposed to so many different people and their cultures, and foods, and celebrations.  With Lunar New Year coming up, I am remembering years ago a spur of the moment trip to Chinatown that found us in the middle of a huge street festival with fire works and lion dancers and the best food you’ve ever tasted.  I think that is one of the things that city living has over living in the countryside.  Your experience is broadened and you learn new things and make new friends.  And while I have come to learn that city living really isn’t for me, I don’t think I would give up those experiences for the world.

I think that the more we can be exposed to varied and different cultures, the more it informs our spiritual practises in subtle ways. We allow ourselves to be more open and less rigid, and it helps us to find a harmony in our lives and our communities.

Next week, we talk mythology — which I think I already touched on here.  Maybe I’ll link a couple of my favourite stories.

Header image is © Jonathan Hagey – Flickr Creative Commons

Call for Global Witchcraft Community to Unite Against Terrorism | The Wild Hunt

CAMEROON — In early January, Chiefs from the Eastern regions of Cameroon requested permission to use Witchcraft against the terrorist group Boko Haram. The news came through a tweet by respected investigative journalist and Chief Bisong Etahoben on Feb. 1. Shortly after, President Paul Biya respond

Source: Call for Global Witchcraft Community to Unite Against Terrorism | The Wild Hunt

CALLING ALL MAGIC WORKERS- A GLOBAL WORKING AGAINST BOKO HARAM

This is a working that I am going to be a part of. I will be up at 3am Saturday morning to add my energy to this important cause. Care to join me?

LEAN IN TO JOY with BONEWEAVER

This Saturday, February 13th, we are planning a SJWW (Social Justice Witches Working) against Boko Haram. If you are on Facebook the event page is here. Consider yourself invited, whether on Facebook or not, as this is a public event and as many folks as possible are asked to join for the oomph a collective can bring.

DETAILS:

CALLING ALL MAGIC WORKERS- A GLOBAL WORKING AGAINST BOKO HARAM

Invite your friends who would like to support this effort! This event is public. Details are below on the timing and bones of the working. I’ve added a poem I’m going to use (use as desired). I’ll be dressing candles with an herb and oil blend particular to the cause. I personally will be invoking Medusa’s unflinching gaze into the mix as i am working with Her this year. Add your comments, post your outlines, run with it!

BEST UPCOMING WORKING VS…

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Witchy Wednesday – How I Feel in February

Now that I am all caught up, I only have to do these once a week!  So, this week’s topic is “How do you feel about this time of the year?”  There are about a half-dozen of these spaced throughout the year.  I may or may not do all of them.  Or, more likely, I will move them around so that they are more evenly spaced.  For instance there are two in the spring, and then two months before there is another one.

Anyway, February.  I tend to have a love/hate relationship with February.  It’s my birth month, so that is alternately lovely and depressing.  A friend of mine decided that this year she would buy herself as many awesome gifts as she has years on this planet, and I think that may be my way to a happy birthday as well.  Once you’re over 30, no one likes getting older anymore.  Or, I might finally save up and buy myself the Book of Shadows that I’ve always wanted.

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When I lived on the coast I really looked forward to February because that was the end of winter.  Two last weeks of yucky, cold, rainy, sloppy weather, and then it was spring — like overnight, winter just went away.  Part of me still expects that from February, even though it will still snow in Calgary until April at the very least.

We are just past Imbolc.  It was nice.  Cold, but bright and sunny.  That’s probably a bad omen groundhog/callieach-legend-wise, but I was happy with it.  Did a reading for things I wish to grow during the year.  The cards say I worry too much, but that things look good financially over all.  I was pretty happy with that.  I might stretch Imbolc out until the fourth (which I have found out is the astrologically correct day for Imbolc this year).  I like my holidays to span a few days.  That will also give me time to work a cleaning and cleansing for the house without having to push through it all in one big go.

I made fairy wands for the kids.  Check out my Instagram for a play-by-play of that.  I didn’t really expect them to last more than a day, and I was right.  I expect the ribbon will start coming off by the end of the week.  The bells lasted all of two hours on the little boy’s wand.  But, little Miss R got to do her waking run around the yard, and after a good cry and an explanation that no, it will not instantly turn to spring like it does in the cartoons, she had some fun shaking her bells and talking to the trees.  Ah, parenthood!

This year has been a little better than most mood-wise, I think.  I am really looking forward to our little trip to the coast coming up.  The thought of going home even for a short while always makes me happy.  We also have some plans in the works to make this trip a little more special, and less of a burden on family and friends.  Fingers crossed that that all works out nicely.

That’s really all for this week.  To sum up, to me, February is like the relative that lives on your couch.  You love it most when waving goodbye.  Until next week, folks. <3

Witchy Wednesday – Wheel of the Year

I have seen a few Youtube videos regarding the Week 4 topic.  I love seeing how others plan out their years – there are so many different calendars out there for Pagan/Polytheist folks – one of my good friends even follows the Catholic liturgical calendar, which I learned has quite a lot more too it than the Protestant year I grew up with.

I am afraid that my year is fairly standard and boring in comparison.  I follow the Celto-Wiccan style Wheel – Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnassad, Mabon, Samhain and Yule.

Imbolc is coming up in less than a week.  Through most of my practise, Imbolc has been a holiday that I only really observed by buying flowers or a little crocus plant, and maybe some divination.  This is mainly because on the coast, there are usually cherry blossoms starting already by February.  By the last couple of weeks of the month, spring is in full force.

Since I have moved to frozen Calgary, recognizing a warmth and fire holiday when you are in the midst of a winter that feels like it will never end has really grown in importance in my life.  This year I am fasting for four days before hand (due to an unrelated medical test), and I will be doing some intense meditation and divinations as well as reading some myths to my little ones by candle light. The morning of Imbolc will see us making fairy wands so the kids can run through the snow in the back yard jingling to wake up the earth.

In March, our little family will be celebrating Ostara while in the middle of a vacation to the coast, so there will be much beach time, and picking of wild flowers.  We might even get together with cousins for an egg hunt.

Beltane falls on May first, though the festivities usually begin the night before.  In previous years we have had a fire in the fire pit, but our current house doesn’t have a pit in the yard, so I am going to have to get creative.  I might buy a portable one now that I have a paying job again.  Fire is the big symbol of Beltane.  For a family, I think that that may mean barbeque!

Then Litha, the festival of flowers and fruit.  I love this one, and my little girl does too.  I doubt we will have a lot of access to wildflowers this year (townhouses tend not to have big gardens), but we can still picnic in the park and make flower crowns.

Lughnassadh has been a tough festival for me since I have had to live gluten-free.  The festival of wheat and bread is complicated when you can’t really partake.  Flat breads usually work out pretty well with gluten-free flours, so we may just end up making this the feast of pizza this year.

In Canada, Thanksgiving is usually on or around October 13th, so Mabon is like Thanksgiving lite. It centers around food and harvest themes.  Last year we had an actually autumn so we got to collect leaves on our long evening walks.  That was fun.  The weather will really determine our celebrations.

Last year the kids were finally old enough for trick or treating, so we had a small Halloween, and discovered that much of the neighbourhood doesn’t trick or treat at all.  It made me a little sad for the older folks who go all out, but never get trick or treaters.  I will be making sure that we go out so that they can have some kids at their houses to appreciate the decorations and candy.

For me, Samhain is about remembrance and ancestors.  I meditate on those I have loved and lost, and leave offerings for them.  And I make soup.  No specific reason, really, I just always feel moved to make soup at Samhain.

Most years, Samhain leads right into NaNoWriMo, so I am SUPER busy through all of November.  Then we have Yuletide which tends to keep me busy for the rest of the year.

Our Yule has a short candle vigil on the longest night (since I usually can’t, for mundane reasons, stay up all night), and then it is very much a secular Christmas with as much Pagan imagery as I can get – the stag is a big figure in our house.  Snowmen are the kids favourites so we always have those as well.  And we also have some gnomes and a large Holly King/Santa decoration who sits on the table.  The kids love talking to him and telling him all their wishes.

I used to do Twelfth Night/New Years when I was younger, but in recent years I just haven’t had the energy, so I tend to let it slide.  I might revive it when the kids are old enough to stay up and enjoy a mummer’s party.

At most of the Sabbats I will do divination and meditation on the symbologies — occasionally, spellwork, but not often.  I will probably be focusing more on animistic interpretations of the Celtic wheel mythos this year.

I took this article as an opportunity to revamp and repost the Wheel of the Year page.  If I can keep up the momentum I have now, I will be adding to it.  I will probably write my Litha post in the next couple of weeks or so — that way I can pretend that there isn’t still a foot of snow outside my door.

That’s my year.  Pretty simple.  Until next time, folks.

A Look Back at the Burning Times

This has been a ridiculously hard subject for me to order my thoughts on coherently.  I have thought about setting it aside and doing something easier and less controversial.  But I don’t think I can do that.  This is a conversation that has been waiting for over a decade.  That’s really long enough.

I’m sure that just about every Pagan has at some point come across the Burning Times myth.  I touched on it in 2004 in my article on Revisionist History.  In re-reading this article, I remember the mindset I was in when I wrote it.  Back in the early 2000s we were still fighting off the satanic ritual conspiracy myths, still fighting to be recognized as valid spiritualists rather than just a group of stoned new-agers dancing in the dirt under the full moon.

The modern version of the story traces back to a book from the early twentieth century called The Witch Cult in Western Europe by Margaret Murray.  I’m not going to go into a historical account of her work, or attempt to unravel where her information got twisted.  Current historical data has disproved her theories regarding ancient matrifocal societies that covered the western world.

What I do want to explore is the intense staying power this myth has had through the growth of Paganism in North America.  Witchcraft traditions really began to grow and take hold during the rise of second wave feminism in the 1960s and 70s.

It was a time of sociopolitical upheaval where young people all over the continent were standing up for the first time and demanding that their voices be heard — demanding that attitudes towards violence and war be changed.  Women were gathering in rallies to demand to be heard, and for their personhood to be respected.

Religious Witchcraft had arrived on the scene to show  these young people that a woman’s body was sacred rather than shameful and profane.  This is the climate that allowed for the myth that 9 million women were burned at the stake for practising a matrifocal religion to spread like wildfire.

In the 1990s and early 2000s we saw a resurgence of powerful women coming to the forefront of popular culture, and that brought with it another rise for Religious Witchcraft and its entwined myth of the Burning Times.  This was the atmosphere where I cut my spiritual teeth, so to speak.

By the mid-2000s, the myth had been soundly disproven, and it was cast aside by many with derision and extreme prejudice against those who chose to cling to it like gospel.  It was then, and still is today, I am sad to say, used as a club against Christians and Christianity as a whole.  Many wrap themselves in the mantle of victimhood, insisting that their spiritual ancestors were massacred at the hands of Christian zealots looking to wipe out anything different from themselves.

Now, when I say that the myth was disproven, I want to be clear that the Witch Trials were an actual thing.  The numbers and the fact that they were women/witches are the parts that are inaccurate.  The Witch Trials were also a time of much political upheaval.  Science, capitalism, philosophy, and even atheism were all on the rise, and the church of the fifteenth century was losing its control of the populace. The chaos, fear and deaths from this campaign against heretics and devil worshippers lasted for three hundred years, costing roughly 50,000 people their lives.

This is something that I think deserves to be remembered.  Three hundred years of people living in fear of being tortured and then burned alive because a massive institution was trying to stem the tide of change.

In my previous post on animism, I mentioned that the purpose of myths is to teach us sacred truths, and I believe it is so with the myth of the Burning Times.  The easy lesson is that anyone can be a victim of prejudice, and that extreme prejudice and xenophobia leads to death.  The harder truth is something that takes a lot more soul-searching to understand.

Like virtually every other instance of genocide in human history, the Witch Trials would have fizzled with far fewer deaths if it were not for the compliance of the populace.  Neighbours informing on neighbours, accusations made out of spite and greed — just as every one of the victims can be claimed as a spiritual ancestor, so can every one of the informants who brought the Witch Hunters to their village over a ridiculous and petty spat; and each one of those people who were too afraid or suspicious to help the accused, they are ours as well.

In the current political climate of our world, it hits home especially hard for me every time I see people demanding that refugees be turned away or that those with darker skin or a different religion be put through extra security screenings at airports, borders or other transportation hubs.

The Burning Times myth is a tale that grew up alongside American Paganism.  I don’t believe that it is something that will ever be detangled from our history.  It may sound as ridiculous as the story of Noah gathering two of every creature on the earth into one boat, but I believe that we need to own it all the same. And we need to understand its truths.

Bigotry is never ok — even against those you would see as your persecutors.  The other side of the coin speaks to complacency in the face of bigotry and xenophobia.  Do not welcome the hunters into your village.  Speak out in support of the hunted.

In the words of Ramana Maharshi:

“There are no others.”

Witchy Wednesday – Altars

Altars?  Do I have altars??  Not as such, no.

I’ve never really been one for a lot of pageantry in my path.  I meditate anywhere I can be alone for a few minutes.  With two kids under 5, a lot of times that means in the shower.

I have few tools.  I spent my twenties moving nearly as many times as there were years.  You end up with a lot less stuff that way.

I do have a little set up on my desk at the moment. It isn’t much, but it gets my stuff out of storage.  Despite the fact that we will probably be moving in a year, I have reached the limit of my tolerance for ‘living on hold’.  I want my house to look like a home — even if that means that I have more packing to do when the time comes.

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Left to right: a multi-purpose white candle (try to ignore the monitor glare).  Sometimes for purposeful work, sometimes just because I like to have a candle burning while I write.

My wand that I made when I was in my early twenties from a stick that I had found when I was about ten, and had kept for all those years because it looked like a wand.  It needs a little repair work.  The moonstone base fell off a few years back and was lost, so I need to source a new cabochon that will fit.

Under that is my pentacle that was made for me by my good friend Mattie.  It’s one of my most favourite pieces.  If you can’t read it, the inscription reads: “Thee I invoke by the moonlit sea by the standing stone and the twisted tree.”

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Next is a spiral sun cut into a branch circle necklace.  It’s a pendant that I bought from an artisan shop on Granville Island in Vancouver.  It reminds me of all the times we used to go down there just to window shop, or to visit the little pagan store that was down on the waterfront.  I think I bought one of my tarot decks from there.  And a pendulum.  Can’t remember which ones, though.

Then there is a fairly large chunk of amethyst.  Amethyst is my birthstone.  This was originally my brother’s.  I don’t remember if he gave it to me or if I helped myself to it, but it’s mine now.  Haha.  Siblings, eh?

The little bowl in the back is my ceramic cauldron bowl that I bought just a few months back from Chapters.  It was on sale, and adorable so I grabbed it.

Inside it is my little writing companion — a little pink owl stuffie.  My son found it in the parking lot of the grocery store last year, I think.  After it had found its way to the bottom of the toy box, I rescued it.  The kids still play with it off and on because it’s “Mommy’s Hootie”.  Thus, when they are playing pets and I don’t have one, they go and find him for me.

Hootie is sitting on a bit of sari silk that came in the most recent package I got from India.  The pieces are small, but I am sure I will think of something to use it for.  It’s just too pretty to throw away.

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Inside the cauldron bowl are mostly pendulums.  Amethyst, quartz, carnelian, and a seashell one that was a gift from another friend during a craft swap.  There is an Ohio quarter that I found on the floor of my office one day.  At the bottom are a couple polished stones: amethyst, rose quartz, smokey quartz, and orange calcite.  There is also a pendant (my most recent purchase from India) of labradorite.

And then beside that is a little cone incense burner that I bought way back in the day from a little pagan shop that is in what used to be a 19th century prison in, I think, Coquitlam.  I don’t really use cone incense because the smell is way too strong for me, but I am hoping to be able to rig it up to use it as a charcoal warmer for dried herbs.

That’s all that I have right now.  My chalice in the process of being repaired.  Once I am finished with that I will probably bring it up here.

I do want to set up an ancestor altar.  I will need a floating shelf for the wall first, but I have an idea of how to set it up.  I am also in the process of building a travel altar as part of a craft along with a handful of friends from Facebook. That will be a fun one to unpack when I am finished with it.

If I have my tripod by then, I will probably make a video of it.  We can test my video making abilities.

Until next week, folks – I believe the next question up is about the Wheel of the Year.

 

Witchy Wednesdays – In or Out of the Broom Closet

Way back in the early days, I wrote a post regarding my thoughts on the Broom Closet generally, but I don’t think I have ever really written about it from my own perspective before.

I tend to waffle back and forth between being in and out depending on the situation I find myself in.  I think that the concept of the broom closet is a little different for us in Canada.  There is considerably less religion pushing here, and most folks tend to just leave it as something that isn’t really brought up in polite conversation.

I grew up on the west coast, but in a small town where everyone belonged to one of our three churchs, the kingdom hall or the sikh temple.  Now that I think about it, that is an awful lot of religious buildings for a town of less than a thousand people.

My mother was brought up in the United Church, but went to a Catholic high school.  My father was an atheist, and after my parents split up, and we moved back to Canada, I think it became important to my mom that we have some manner of religion in our upbringing.

As with many small communities, the town we moved to was not terribly welcoming to outsiders. The minister from the Baptist Church was the first to arrive on our doorstep to welcome us to town and invite us to Sunday services.  We went as a family for a while, but the teachings didn’t really jive with my mom’s beliefs and after a while it was just us kids who went – more for community involvement than anything else.

Anyone who has had dealings with Baptist Churches can probably tell you how pushy they can get — especially with strong-willed girls who have no adults around to back them up.

I can remember the fights and the pressure from neighbours to shut up and learn my place, but I can also remember that grounds were so beautiful and the back field was surrounded by old forests.  I can remember watching the moon rise over the barn-shaped building one winter afternoon while I was supposed to be rehearsing for the Christmas play.  I remember skipping home in my pretty white dress under the warmth of the late spring sun.  I guess we remember the good parts a little easier when there is enough space between us and the hurt feelings.

After a particularly nasty Sunday school session when I was about 12, I refused to go back again.  My brothers kept going for a while, but that tapered off as we settled into a religionless life.

As I have mentioned before, I came to the Craft during a time when it was stepping into the mainstream as cool.  My mom had concerns regarding the Satanic Ritual Conspiracy crap that for some reason still refuses to die amongst the townspeople where I grew up, but she read the cards, taught me to make my first pendulum (which I have since given to my daughter), and believed in palmistry and various other New Age techniques, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure on me to hide what I was reading about and learning.

Once I was out on my own, I had no restraints at all, and I tended to hit both ends of the scale of *really* in your face and out, and *so deep in the closet you would never guess in a million years*.  I think it had a lot to do with my own confidence in my practises and beliefs.  In the end, I tend to believe that it really isn’t anyone’s business what I do.  I like my privacy, but I don’t want my kids to feel pressured to hide what we believe.  In Canada, I can have the best of both worlds, and I feel pretty lucky that I don’t have to choose one way or the other.

If I don’t want anyone to know about my path and my beliefs, I just don’t bring it up.  However, if you really wanted to know, all you need do is plug my name into Google, and it will bring you to this webpage.

So, am I in or out … the short answer, I guess, is yes.

Pagan Perspectives

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