A Common Question About Wicca or Paganism and Being Wiccan or Pagan in 2017

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Last year I used my oracle cards and asked if a particular goddess was trying to reach me. I turned a card over and it was Rhiannon. I already had an image of her on display, and my shrine to her grew quickly and naturally into a thing of such beauty that I’d like to share it, but I feel it should be kept private.

After a few months, I found my that my thoughts often turned to The Morrigan. I felt her as strength, autonomy, and ultimate feminine power. She is, after all, regarded by some as the personification of Ireland.

(Rhiannon is a Welsh deity familiar to most because of the Stevie Nicks song. I LOVE Stevie, but she wrote the song because she was inspired by a character in a novel, not the goddess. If you are interested in Rhiannon because of the song, research the goddess. Books are best. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a book just about Rhiannon as I did with The Morrigan. I did find and buy this book and found it eye opening. It has chapters about 13 Celtic and Norse goddesses including Cerridwyn, Brighid, Eostre, Freyja, Aine, Danu, Modron, Hella, Branwen, Maeve, the Valkyries, and Morrighan. If you want to read about the fictional character that inspired Stevie Nicks, you want this book. I found the hardback and paperback in the same used bookstore.)

Okay, now that we have the list of books out of the way, let’s talk Wicca, altars, and 2017. You can bet your buttons that anything with the words “religious freedom” in it no longer applies to us in the U.S.

I’ve been interested in Wicca since I was 12. I’m 44 now. I started my Wicca journey with The Mists of Avalon and The Spiral Dance. Guess I didn’t get the book list out of the way after all. What I learned from The Mists of Avalon was what it means to serve The Goddess. The library copy I read had an index listing The Spiral Dance as source material. Wiccans generally refer to “The Goddess,” “The Triple Goddess,” and, more popularly today, “The Spiral Goddess.”

What if more than one goddess seems to pick you? I believe in individual manifestations of The Goddess. Believe me, if She wants you to see Her as one or more particular deities, She’ll make you see it.

With my shrine to Rhiannon and then The Morrigan opening my door and announcing herself, I was concerned about having shrines to multiple deities, especially deities from different pantheons. This forum discussion helped me tremendously. I set up a separate shrine for The Morrigan. It’s much darker than my shrine to Rhiannon but, as with the construction of Rhiannon’s shrine, it almost seemed to create itself. I honor both of them on holy days and throughout the month, especially on the days/nights of the New Moon, Full Moon, and Waning Moon.

Now, 2017. They’ll use their religious freedom nonsense against us eventually. How do you want to live as a Wiccan, a pagan, a heathen in 2017? If you’re already out, you’re out. If you’re not, you must be knowledgeable about your religion and your REAL religious rights before you come out. Hell, if you’ve been out, you should have the ACLU’s phone number in your phone. Many of us are by nature solitaries and we despise dogma, and lately there’s been too much of that in Wiccan groups (and too much of men running groups and chastising women.) If you don’t want to be in a coven, don’t feel obliged to join one now. But consider a quiet support system. You can find your sisters and brothers on Twitter. You can find me there.

Beware of white supremacist, homophobic “pagans.” They’re out there openly now, particularly if you identify with Norse goddesses and gods.

Blessed be, Sisters and Brothers.

Ash Wednesday a Year Later

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I woke up early today, for a wonder, and started reading Twitter. I no longer keep up with the Christian calendar unless it’s Easter or Christmas. Those were our family traditions. Today is Ash Wednesday. I haven’t celebrated–or been forced to observe–Ash Wednesday since I was in private school.

A lot has happened over the last year, especially since September, to show me that Christianity is not my path. I’m on the outside looking in at people discussing getting ready early today to that they can go to church, and I’m reading tweets from countries in Great Britain where the Ash Wednesday celebrations are a much bigger deal that they are here . . . full of color, traditional costumes, and music.

The only reason I’m writing this post is that the happiness over Ash Wednesday is such a painful contrast to what happened today in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts.

Three women were interrogated on suspicion of witchcraft: Tituba, an enslaved woman, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne. And thus began one of the most obscene episodes of insanity in American history: the Salem Witch Trials.

We know now (at least some of us do) that it is 99.999% likely that none of the 19 people executed in Salem for witchcraft were witches. I’m leaving that less than 1% chance open because someone may have been quietly practicing an old belief system. Maybe they escaped the hysteria because they kept to themselves. Maybe they turned their faces from their accused neighbors in order to survive.

It’s 2017 and Salem now exists on tourism fed by false accusations of witchcraft.

When I put away my Mary Magdalene paraphernalia last September and turned back to what had lain dormant in my mind for thirteen years–that’s weird, thirteen years, isn’t it?–I felt sad, lost, forsaken, as if I thought I had a friend but didn’t. That’s how close I was to this heretical version of Christianity. I didn’t mind being a heretic. It felt right to me . . . except that it was causing me quite a bit of anxiety trying to understand it.I remember reading something in the Bible attributed to Jesus regarding divorce and thinking, surely this doesn’t apply to me. I didn’t want to leave. I had to.

It’s all simply too hard to fathom. I was amazed at how easily I slipped back into my old ways and how much pleasure there is in being an adult and not having to disguise my altars or put away my Tarot cards.

Then I remembered where I was. In the South. Surrounded by neighbors who, instead of listening to me when I tried to explain the reason for my lifelong OCD, told me “you know you did something wrong” and told me to pray. Where people wave crucifixes and proclaim “my God is good!” even though their lives, from what they tell me, are not happy.

It’s a pretense. And I have to keep my altars and my Tarot cards and my books in my bedroom, because at least down here people have some scruples about just walking into your bedroom.

Which brings me back to the point of this post: pagans still can’t be as open about their beliefs as Christians. And today is a holy day for many Christians, but it’s also a day of remembrance for 19 people who fell victim to a hysteria much like what is burning across our country today:

Victims of Salem in Order of Execution:

Bridget Bishop

Rebecca Nuse

Sarah Good

Elizabeth Howe

Susannah Martin

Sarah Wildes

George Burroughs

George Jacobs Sr.

Martha Carrier

John Proctor

John Willard

Martha Corey

Mary Eastey

Mary Parker

Alice Parker

Ann Pudeator

Wilmot Redd

Margaret Scott

Samuel Wardwell Sr.

Giles Corey

Several victims died in prison:

Lydia Dustin

Ann Foster

Sarah Foster

Roger Toothaker

Mercy Foster (daughter of Sarah Good, born and died in prison)

This obscene part of American history is more than just a list of names of the accused dead. There were a few people who escaped from the Salem prison. You can start here to learn about the real people behind the names:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_of_the_Salem_witch_trials#Convicted_and_executed

I’m going to spend Ash Wednesday in remembrance of all these many people who suffered and died as a result of hysteria, prejudice, and intolerance.

We would do well, when we turn on the news today, to remember that “witch hunt” isn’t just a catchphrase and, under the leadership of someone eager to harm those different from him in skin color, religious belief, and sexuality, it’s already happening again.

A Quiet Yule

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I set up a simple Yule altar with a handmade altar cloth made by my cousin and an ornament that she made, a pine cone, and a white reindeer. I placed tall jar candles, red, white, and green behind the reindeer and decorations. *Protip: seven-day holy candles are super inexpensive, safe, and readily available in dollar stores and at Walmart. It takes less than ten minutes to soak off the labels and pictures in hot water. It’s hard to find decent-sized votive candles, at least here, and then there’s the whole digging the old candle out of the holder issue. I use 7-day candles for almost everything except rituals requiring a small candle that burns down completely in a few hours.*

My mother isn’t a pagan, but she supports me being one. She liked the Yule altar. We exchanged gifts. I gave her a Three Birds of Rhiannon pendant that I bought on Etsy, and she gave me The Vintage Wisdom Oracle by Victoria Moseley (I picked it out.) We listened to holiday music, and then we put together a quick holiday meal of turkey burgers, seasonal vegetables, homemade gingersnaps, and cranberry sauce.

We will have our usual Christmas because my mother still identifies as Christian, although she has become a non-traditional Christian. She doesn’t go to church. She’s actively interested in my pagan beliefs and holidays. She kept saying “this is lovely. This is lovely.” There’s something about the simple Yule altar that speaks to the spirit. I included a gift exchange because we have had such a dreadful month so far, and I wanted to give her a gift in advance of Christmas simply to cheer her up.

Here are pictures of our Yule altar and gifts. If you celebrate Yule, I hope yours was a merry one like ours!

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The Shortest Day

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2016-march-sunset

Vampires love the short days of deep winter. Wolves aren’t the only hungry things out in the night in January under the Wolf Moon. I was born under January’s Wolf Moon; perhaps that is why I prefer the night to the day and can so easily slip into the minds of the werewolf and vampire characters that I write.

The Winter Solstice, the first day of winter, is December 21st. This day is also referred to as Midwinter. The week that contains both the Winter Solstice and Christmas would seem to naturally be at odds with old and new beliefs. The sun is reborn at the Solstice; after that moment, the daylight grows by the minute each day. The Christ Child is born on Christmas Day. New Year’s Day follows, with a lot of good wishes and merry-making and resolutions and plans for The Best Year Yet.

I don’t think very many thinking people are looking forward to 2017 as a year of positive changes. As our collective humanity fell yesterday with the decision of the Electoral College, the shadows that hunt under the Wolf Moon came to the forefront of my mind.

There will be hunger. There will be fear. There will be loss. It’s nothing that our ancestors, all of our ancestors everywhere, didn’t acknowledge and face at certain times of the year according to their calendar.

We don’t do that. All our Judeo-Christian and secular celebrations lean towards the bright side, except perhaps holidays like November 1st, All Soul’s Day. Other days that honor the dead and the ancestors, Día de los Muertos, the growing devotion in Mexico to Santa Muerte, the voices of women who work in the death industry, death doulas, are working their way into our mainstream consciousness. Death looks back at us from dolls and toys. We talk about death and what we want done with our remains openly, and radically, compared to our parents and grandparents.

We’ve had a year of death . . . people we all “knew” for decades, people whose names we never knew until hatred and fear cut short their lives, entire cities.

We aren’t looking to 2017 as a new start. We’re looking at it as dragging the old year  behind us. We wake up expecting a new nightmare. We’re collectively sick from it. Some of us are actually making appointments with our doctors because the depression and anxiety are paralyzing. People are preparing to die if they lose the government benefits that pay for their medications, the government benefits to which they are entitled.

My aunt died at 9:30 in the morning last Monday. I had to help plan a funeral for the first time. I had to approve a suitable dress. I had to view her body at the nursing home to make certain she looked appropriate for an open-casket funeral. I had to position her glasses just right and cover the bruises on her hands–she fell out of her wheelchair–with the flowing lace sleeves of her wedding dress. I noticed that her fingernails were freshly painted. She had this done at the nursing home, perhaps the day before she fell out of her wheelchair.

Cold and dead in a pretty box, like this year.

We look forward to the shortest day because the next day will be longer. At the same time, the worst of winter is less than a month away, January 12th. On December 21st, we are far away from the sun. In mid-January, the wolf is closest to the door. We talk about self-care and taking things one day at a time. Our ancestors sat behind barred doors with weapons in hand.

The daughters are becoming the mothers of the mothers. We turn back to cards and feathers and stones. The peppermint plant is dying, but it has born many seedlings in the cold window under the dingy infrequent sunlight.

After the shortest day, after we make it through January, we look forward to the first day of February, Imbolc, the birth of the early spring lambs, a holy day associated with the Irish Goddess Brigid. Then, in March, the Spring Equinox, because after that we become impatient for the last frost, and the same dirt that covers our dead becomes home to the peppermint seedlings, under the lengthening sunny hours, minutes, seconds, after the shortest day.

Wise Women

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I’ve noticed, since Tuesday night, more blog posts than usual from pagan women. Like this one I just happened across on Twitter: https://theshadowsanctuary.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/waking-up-in-trumps-america/.

It seemed safe, for a while, to be pagan in the U.S.A. Living in the Bible belt is different, of course, I never shared my beliefs with anyone but my mother, my favorite cousin, and my best friend. Other family members know but don’t understand because they’ve never listened TO me, just dismissed me as an oddball–but I digress.

The fact that pagan women are speaking out about their feelings about living in “Trump’s America” gives me hope. As I told someone on Twitter, women have always been the healers and the warriors. Apparently pagan women are feeling called in some way to deal with this monstrous situation.

At the same time, many of these women are queer, disabled, or both and are at risk in “Trump’s America.” They’re at risk due to their sexuality, because we’ve already seen threats against LGBT people, and at risk due to their health. They may be dependent on Obamacare to stay alive. They may lose Obamacare because of Trump.

So we should all be prepared to stand up for each other and help in any way we can. And put something on your altar to remind you every day to send energy to these brave women to help protect them.

On the path

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Finally confirming to myself that I am a Wiccan has made me so much happier than I’ve been in a long time. I became interested in Wicca when I was a young teenager, after I read The Mists of Avalon. I wanted to go to Avalon and live among the other girls studying to be priestesses. The library copy that I read almost 20 years ago listed The Spiral Dance as a source of some of the information about pagan religions in ancient Britain. So of course I read that next and I had the same almost giddy feeling that I have now . . . but I was at private school, and my choice of reading material did not go over well with the school. And my mother was not cool with Wicca at the time, so I didn’t feel free. After I graduated from high school, in my twenties, I still didn’t feel free. I couldn’t have a real altar. An altar is important to me. I had to try to observe the holy days in secret. I hid my books about Wicca and paganism with my fantasy novels. The few people who knew about my beliefs mocked them. Every Wiccan has heard the “oh, can you wiggle your nose and turn me into a toad?” thing . . . well, every Wiccan of a certain age.

I got interested in Buddhism in my late 20s and early 30s. I met my ex-husband on a Buddhism forum. After we started living together, it became clear that his idea of Zen Buddhism and my interest in Kwan Yin did not mesh. I got lost. I felt like the mocked teenager again. His family was Christian and I started thinking about my first years of school at Catholic school and how I felt safe there as opposed to home because home was chaos, and I became interested in the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene again. His family accepted that. They never really accepted his Buddhist beliefs. I got a Miraculous Medal and wore it 24/7 the last two years of my marriage. I felt protected. I know now that I was always looking for the Goddess, first in Kwan Yin and then in the two Marys.

The Miraculous Medal, the prayer specific to the medal, and the Hail Mary helped keep me sane while my marriage deteriorated. I still think that my nephew (by marriage) who was born with a normally deadly bowel obstruction recovered due to a miracle. My sister-in-law told us that when the surgeon came out of the operating room after my nephew’s second surgery she said “we didn’t do this. This was a miracle.” Maybe it was. Maybe I was just mistaken about who was responsible for the miracle.

After I moved home, I gradually began to feel . . . unfulfilled. I had no desire to go to church. I talked to my mother. Although she is a Christian, she told me that she no longer had a problem with Wicca. She’s actually interested in Celtic mythology now. She’s interested in the ancient Irish goddesses because our heritage is predominantly Irish. I set up a beautiful altar. I sit outside and watch the leaves fall and the birds and squirrels eating the sunflower seeds I put out and I feel a visceral connection to the earth and the animals and the changing of the seasons. I’m rereading all the books I had to hide so long ago. I mentioned in a post a couple of days ago that a friend got me really interested in Tarot cards. Actually, this post is a lot like the one I wrote a few days ago, but I was so struck with happiness today sitting outside, feeling the chill of autumn finally after a long summer, picking the last of my basil, deciding which plants to try to overwinter inside that I had to write about it again. I don’t expect to ever be part of a group. That’s not my thing. I like talking to other Wiccans online, but other than that, I prefer to be solitary. You can find dogma in Wicca too, and people who insist their way is the only acceptable way.

Most of the people I know are Christians and they’re not the sort to try to push their beliefs on anyone. They respect my beliefs. It’s really wonderful and I’m lucky. And my friends are kind and charitable and have a genuine desire to help others and I respect their beliefs.

My life is still uncertain and stressful. It didn’t magically change when I made the decision this is what I am. But my beliefs help me deal with the problems in my life. I’m starting to look at people and situations differently. In some cases, I look at people with a kinder eye. In other cases, I realize that some people don’t have my best interests at heart and I feel now that I have the fortitude to deal with them instead of being a doormat.

That is what the Goddess gives women. She gives us our self-esteem back. She gives us our power back, if we’ve relinquished it. She gives us a different way to look at the situations in our lives, and we’re able to deal with problems if we can’t solve them.

This has happened to me very fast after a year of agonizing over which path is right for me. It’s like being a teenager again and discovering Wicca but having an adult’s freedom.

It’s like waking up from a half-existence and being fully alive.

Blessed be.

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Rhiannon by Stevie Nicks-1982

The Crone in the 21st Century

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By the standards of my Celtic ancestors, I’m a crone.

I’m beyond my childbearing years. I have an aunt–or dare I say, grandmother–relationship with the children in my life. I’m constantly either explaining something to the little girl next door like how squirrels carry food up the tree to their young, or I’m showing her exactly how much water the plants need, or I’m helping her learn her numbers and letters. I’m explaining political and historical events that I lived through to adults young enough to be my children. I’m trading gardening tips with the woman next door. I’m reminiscing about life before the Internet with other people my age.

I’m trying to share my knowledge of folklore and mythology with others and I’m still learning myself, and that is where I believe the 21st century “crone” differs from the crone of old.

Last night, I was thinking about The Crone, looking at my altar, and thinking that my Crone isn’t Crone-ish at all. She’s a young woman of indeterminate age, she wears a headscarf and generic “peasant” clothes, and she carries a tray. I put a miniature bowl of fruit on it and an overflowing basket of the same fruit beside her. I think that the fruits are pomegranates, which figure heavily in mythology. Eve’s apple was likely originally a pomegranate, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What is The Crone’s greatest power? Her knowledge and the fact that she no longer menstruates and she holds the magic of menstruation within her. In the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, Hades, Lord of the Underworld, kidnaps Persephone and she knows that if she eats any food in the Underworld, she may never escape.

In some versions of the myth, Hades tricks Persephone into eating five or six pomegranate seeds. In other versions, she succumbs to hunger and voluntarily eats the pomegranate seeds. She is then required to spend that many months out of every year in the Underworld with Hades, and her mother, Demeter, grieving, lets crops die until Persephone returns in the spring. In this myth, Hecate is usually considered The Crone. She uses her magic (when all the male gods have lied to Demeter or flat-out refused to get involved) to discover what has happened to Persephone.

So The Crone is a woman who helps women and children, who has various types of practical knowledge gained from her life (and passed down from her ancestresses) and who is the go-to advisor when one needs superior magical knowledge. Nowadays our heroes–and they are almost always heroes–go to a wise old wizard when they need help saving the world. The Crone is a bit more down to earth.

She’s also frequently portrayed as a malevolent sorceress (Snow White’s evil stepmother) bent on punishing The Maiden (Snow White) just for existing. The missing element in these stories is always The Mother. The Mother is dead, usually in childbirth, The Maiden is under the protection of her father, and The Crone is unable to come to terms with her change in station. In fairy tales like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, The Crone is jealous because she no longer possesses the youthful beauty and childbearing ability of The Maiden and attempts to prevent The Maiden from becoming The Mother she lacks.

This is a bastardization of what pagans believed and what pagans and Wiccans believe today. Fairy tales convey a lot of truth. They tell us what life was like for young girls and women hundreds of years ago. Women frequently died in childbirth, men took second wives as stepmothers for their children and to warm their own beds, and any additional children (unless they were boys and the husbands had no sons) may have been regarded as burdens at worst or simply disregarded in terms of inheritance and their place at the family table at best. This is why so many fairy tales about young men often involve the youngest son of several sons striking out on his own to earn his fortune.

But back to The Crone. What is her place in our society?

We are living much longer, more active lives than people did, oh, 500 years ago. We women in middle age are often still sexually active. We’re often divorced, or perhaps we never married. We’re in the workforce, trying to not to become redundant, or we’re trying to get back in the workforce after a divorce. We have adult children, and stepchildren, and nieces and nephews, and the kids next door, and an awful lot of us are raising or helping to raise our grandchildren. We’re trying to turn passions and hobbies into second careers. We’re often dismissed as useless because we’re no longer thirty-five, because our hair is going white, because we don’t feel a need to fight for a place in the world of men. We have our own world that revolves around our families, especially our older family members who may have Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, and our young family members who need so much guidance in this world, and our female friends, and our art and/or our studies, and animals, and plants, and the planet.

And I started writing this post with the intent of suggesting we start calling The Crone by a different title, The Wise Woman, I changed my mind. Because The Crone she has always been and The Crone we will always be. It is, of course, every woman’s choice, but it seems to me that holding the title is a form of our power.

And let us honor our ancestresses, directly related, related, or famous or unknown women who made us who we are.

I ran this post through Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check and found this (unheeded) suggestion amusing.

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