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Lammas Day Feast, August 2nd : HarvestYour Happiness

The major sabbat of Lammas Day denotes the high point of the year; all crops are in their peak of fullness, the weather is sunny and warm and all the land is bursting forth with the beauty of life. For centuries, Pagans have known we have the heavens above to thank for this bounty and the gods of nature must always be recognized for their munificence with a gathering of the tribe and a feast, ideally in the great outdoors.  Ask  attendees to bring harvest offerings for the  altar: fresh-picked flowers, apples,  pumpkins, gourds,  corn, wheat stalks bundles fresh pickings from their garden and food to share in thanksgiving made from the crops: berry pies, watermelon, tomato salads, pickles, green beans, corn pudding,  lemon cakes,  cucumbers, apple cider and beer brewed from wheat, hops and barley. This celebration of the reapings from the summer season should reflect what you grown with your own hands. Fill your cauldron or a big beautiful colored glass bowl half-full with freshly-drawn water. Get packets of tiny votive candles for floating in the water. At the feast table, make sure to have a place-setting for the godly guest Lugh who watched over the plantings to ensure this bounty. Place loaves of fresh-baked Lammas bread by his plate.

 

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Calling In Your Guides When You Need Help

In the past month, we have seen thousands of people lose everything in the wildfires here on the West Coast. What to do? Ask for help. Ask your neighbors, local authorities, charities and also those who are less obvious. Calling guides and helpers is easy. Simply say, “Guardians from the light, please come to me and assist me on my healing journey.” You may choose to know them and can say, “Show yourselves to me; let me know your presence.” Sometimes a friend or loved one who has passed away will come, sometimes an old pet will appear, sometimes you may feel a touch on your shoulder or a loving presence. Trust these moments. You can always ask, “Who is with me from the light?” If you feel a strange presence that makes you uneasy or uncomfortable, ask who it is or simply ask the energy to go to the light and leave your space now. If you are unaware of guides or elders that work with you, there are some exercises later to introduce you to your helpers. Your higher self and other higher beings, such as angels, must be called. They are always present, but to actively work with you they must be invited. I call them like this: “Angels, Archangels, please come and be with me now. I would like your presence with me for this healing. Higher Self, please work with me now.” I also call all my guides and animal allies whenever I create my sacred space. After you have performed your ritual, make sure to express your deep gratitude alng with your goodbyes. I recommend doing this every so often so you know which guardians work best with you.

 

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Sacred Summertime: Outdoor Altars

Outdoor altars are usually of a temporary nature and are all the more lovely for it. The beach is a wonderful place to set up a one-day altar on driftwood with seaweed and shells. There, unless the beach is too crowded, you can commune with the water deities and seek your deepest reaches of spirit. Forest, farm, and meadow offer earth and sky and the sanctity of our mother earth upon which to build your altar. As you do so, reflect upon your connection to the ancients, We follow in their footsteps.

 

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Elemental , My Dear: Harnessing the Power of Fire

I am inspired by the teachings of the brilliant Yoruban priestess, Luisah Teish, who told me she keeps a votive glass candle burning in her fireplace (where safe) at all times to “harness Magic Fire in another way.”  

On the next full moon evening, gather a group around your hearth or build a bonfire on the beach or a beautiful fire in a safety-certified fire ring in a park. Ask everyone to bring a glass votive candle, preferably one of the seven-day candles you find at grocery stores or metaphysical shops. After everyone is comfortably seated around the fire, speak aloud:

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On the Dangers of 'Denominationalism' in the Craft

 “She hath a grip of all the Craft.”

(Andrew Mann, of the Queen of Elfhame [1591])

 

“Tradition” is Witch for “denomination.”

For its own good reasons, the collective intuition of the modern Craft has seen fit—you'll pardon the expression—to organize itself into various Traditions.

Some among us strongly identify with a particular Tradition; some of us define ourselves by our Tradition.

There's nothing wrong with that. In some ways, this constitutes a strength.

But there's a difference between letting ourselves be defined by a given Tradition, and letting ourselves be limited by that Tradition.

The Craft is, always has been, and always will be, bigger than any given Tradition.

Were there no witches before Tradition X? Nonsense. There have always been witches. There were witches before there were Traditions. Traditions are made for witches, not witches for Traditions.

The Craft is more than the sum of its Traditions.

No Tradition embodies the fullness of the Craft.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    It's instructive to note that the Far Right was able to co-opt the word "Christian" because, in effect, mainstream Christianity ha
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Well said. Denominationalism is a Christian affliction we do not need and that makes no sense in a Pagan context, historically or
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Huzzah! From Macha, Witch at Large
Rethinking spiritual legitimacy among Pagans

 

Recently there was a dust-up on a British Traditional Wiccan thread I often read: people debated who is or is not a genuine Gardnerian or British Traditional Wiccan. Questions about legitimacy have long been controversies due to these traditions’ concern for lineage and practice. Whenever they do, it seems some Pagans were conflicted, worrying perhaps their own groups and contact with their deities was somehow inadequate compared to others

This online commotion reminded me of other discussions of Pagan legitimacy. This insecurity is not just a BTW disease.

Consider two more examples.

The Pomegranate  began as a magazine offering serious Pagan thinkers and scholars an outlet for their writings. Some important stuff appeared there and some fascinating debates took place.  It made a major contribution to our broader community.  But in time its editor wanted to turn the magazine into an academic journal. I argued against it for the following reasons:

1. It would become too expensive for most Pagans to read. 

2. It would eliminate contributions that fit a Pagan spirituality but not an academic format. Such as poems.

3. It would let academic fields determine what was important.

My and similar advice from others was ignored.

Now, at $90.00 annually,  the Pomegranate is unavailable to most who aren't rich or have easy access to a university library that subscribes. I haven't read it in years. I am confident the Pom encourages greater respect for Pagan academics in academia, but it has little impact on our own community.

Finally, there has been a recent upwelling of essentially theological criteria as to who is or is not a Pagan or a polytheist. These arguments can be interesting, but to my mind their importance to Pagan practice is way over blown.  These questions are of great importance to monotheistic styles of thinking, but as I explained, not to oursI want to push this argument further to question how so many of us think about 'legitimacy.'  

In Whose Eyes?

Our broader culture does not seek religious legitimacy through our personal relations with Spirit and our fellow practitioners. It must first be filtered through sacred texts and often also authorities independent from us. It predisposes us to subordinate our experience to others’ judgments, even others thousands of years dead. It subjects us to attitudes and standards derived from religious traditions with assumptions that are very different from ours.

Scriptural traditions root legitimacy in some text that is supposedly without error.  But in every case these traditions fight and splinter because they cannot agree as to what is said within those pages of inspired writ. Often they end up killing one another. Making a text a final authority does not end discord and probably even increases it since all believe they alone have “the truth.”

To return to the controversy that began this piece: the Gardnerian Book of Shadows is treated by some Gardnerian Pagans as a kind of sacred text. Long and sometimes vitriolic arguments have taken place as to what is truly in keeping with ‘real’ Gardnerian Wicca, arguments made all the more intractable because there are several versions of the BOS, from Gerald Gardner’s early involvement until his death.

I have been told somewhat similar sentiments are heard from some regarding the Spiral Dance. And there are various publications using the name “Witches’ Bible.” Some are good books grotesquely misnamed. 

Scriptural issues and styles of thinking are polluting (to) a religious tradition without a sacred scripture.  Books of Shadows have never claimed the authority of a sacred text.  In the online controversy I mentioned one informed commentator wrote “The first words in the earliest BoS's - words predating Gardner - read: ‘Keep this book in your own hand of write, Let Brothers & Sisters copy what they will...’”

It is inevitable that such a text would change over the years with some new material being added, old material disappearing, and different BOSs developing along independent lines gradually becoming more and more different from one another. A phenomenon that would destroy a scripturally rooted tradition is deliberately encouraged in Wicca.

We encounter similar confusions about legitimacy among some reconstructionists who reason that unlike Wicca, their practices have genuine roots in pre-Christian Pagan practice. Supposedly Wicca was cobbled together by Gerald Gardner whereas theirs is not. NonGardnerian forms of Wicca are supposedly even less grounded in spiritual reality.

This claim isn’t valid. First, and least important for my ultimate argument, Wicca has very old roots even if not, as some once imagined, to the “Old Religion” of pre-Christian Europe. It’s grounding in a mix of ancient occult traditions and folk practices is quite real.

More importantly, no one quite knows in detail what used to happen in the old ethnic traditions now being reconstructed. Folklore, occasional surviving works like the Eddas, and accounts by Roman or other writers give important information, but these hints are limited because we no longer know the context within they originally existed.

To give one important example, the Eleusinian Mysteries were the most famous mystery religion in Classical Greece and virtually every important classical thinker was thought to be an initiate. Despite many ancient references we do not know in detail what happened in them. We are reduced to reading secondary sources.

As we know from comparing modern observers, different people reporting on the same event often produce different descriptions, especially if they report as outsiders.   This tendency helps keep historians in business. Apuleius gives important information about beliefs in his time, but his is only one description, an Isis-centric one. 

Second, some and likely all old traditions destroyed by Christian suppression had extensive oral lore, especially if they had initiatory dimensions. The Pagan Celts wrote nothing down about their practices. What we know of them comes from old poems written down by Christian monks centuries after Celtic Paganism died out at least in public,  Romuva, the reconstructionist tradition with the strongest claim to historical continuity, has had to rely on folklore to help connect their present practices with what happened in the past.  And valuable as folklore is, it has been preserved in a Christianized context where those doing research must exercise very fallible judgment as to what is genuinely old, what a newer accretion, and what its original context was. 

Reconstructionists do the best they possibly can to revive the religions of their ancestors, but they can never be sure they discovered what was known in a tradition of unbroken lineages extending for centuries if not millennia. In fact they can be pretty sure they haven’t.  At most they will have created a tradition carrying important elements of the old into the modern age.  And this is very good.

Third, judging from Native American examples I will discuss below, even within a tradition or a practice there were probably significant regional variations.  There was never “one right way,” Variety with a common theme seems to have been the real pattern. 

Today “Squat,” a commonly invoked Pagan God of parking has different characteristics and different preferences in different places. And I, for one, find Squat a wonderful force to have on my side. But I am more intrigued than bothered when a Pagan in a different region describes Squat differently.  They even make different kinds of offerings than I was taught to.  But the key question is not “Who gets Squat right?”

Tradition and Lineage

But what then makes a tradition? I would suggest lineage is about all that can do the job, and the contents within lineages change all the time.  Let me illustrate with a hopefully no-ncontroversial example from some native American religions. Ritual dances are central to the traditional practice of many tribes.  The Sun Dance is the most famous example, but there are many others.  However, when given the dance by another tribe (the legitimate way to receive a practice is to be given it) the gifted tribes would then modify both it and its meaning, if they choose.

This flexibility within respect and legitimacy seems to have involved more than sacred dances.  I was once told by a Crow Sun Dance priest “Gus, if I taught you how to conduct sweats (lodges), there would come a time when you changed it.”

I waited for a criticism of Euro-American’s lack of respect for Indian religion. It never came.

             He added “And that is how you make it yours.”

To master a practice you must be able to make it yours, though just how you do that, and even if you do that, is your call.

Using this example, we can describe lineages of a Pagan tradition, such as Gardnerian Wicca as family trees. But we misunderstand it if we expect the lineage to reproduce the same practice in detail across generations of practitioners.

The Source of Legitimacy

Legitimacy for Pagan religion arises out of practice, not text or hierarchy or dogma. Most briefly:  does a Pagan practice contribute to our ability to relate with the animate world, with deities or spirits?  If it does, it is legitimate because it is accepted by the only parties that matter: the Gods and the people dealing with Them. If the Gods or other entities do not participate we may be doing effective psychodrama, we may be celebrating the beauty and wonder of the world, or conducting a moving play but this does not demonstrate a relationship with the More-than-human beyond possible wonder and appreciation.

These are good things, do not misunderstand me. But in general Pagan religions historically, and certainly in traditional Wicca, have involved at least altered states of consciousness opening us to other realities, and often to direct experience with deities or the Sacred.

My first and still most overwhelming deity experience was at a NROOGD Midsummer Sabbat in Berkeley, California.  After my encounter with Her there was no doubt in my mind the Gods were real, that they interacted with people, and that my life was forever changed.  That NROOGD was a tradition rooted in a college class some years previously and some books by various authors was irrelevant.  

A tradition grows from the accumulation of experience among its members and its most gifted members passing on their knowledge to others, so that it grows in depth as well as width.  It is passed on by example and experience. My most powerful shamanic teacher once said he could teach everything he could put into words in a weekend, but taught that way it would be useless.  It takes time to develop the experience and the relationships to cement the connections needed for this kind of practice. That is one of the strengths of small groups, such as covens, over large rituals or being a solitary.

Modern America makes this kind of deepening difficult. NROOGD has shrunk in numbers of late and may or may not long survive.  But from a Pagan perspective the deities and other powers are always there, always available if sincerely sought.

If Gardnerian Wicca has any religious advantages over NROOGD, to my mind it is only because it incorporates a greater degree of wisdom and practice from Western occult traditions.  In one form or other it addresses every dimension of living life on this earth.  It has incorporated more depth of experience, having been around much longer. But NROOGD has the same potential.

If the Goddess or other deities appear in our rituals and workings, do we not insult Them when we wonder whether we are truly “legitimate?” What does it say about us if we seek assurances from other religions or scholars while ignoring our own experience?  We may still have much to learn (we always have much to learn), and much to learn from other traditions, but the issue of legitimacy should concern only ourselves and our deities.

 

 

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Gus, thank you for this sane article. Some information that you may or may not have, and that supports your premise: I imagine yo
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thanks for you comment, Francesca. Yes, I've met Fred and corresponded with him a little bit. I don't know him very well, but he i
  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Oh, how I love an articulate nuanced reply! The teacher's role in both the short and longterm in the matters we're discussing is
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    The pleasure is mutual Francesca. And thanks for passing on that tid-bit from Fred.
  • paul mienie
    paul mienie says #
    Yes indeed....the change maybe a little or a lot , whatever you will have needed, you will have got.....lol, THE PATH IS NOT CLEAR

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

About a week ago I posted an essay on Patheos as a Pagan contribution to a series of short pieces by people of many traditions as to the value of religion today. I really like it, and now that Patheos has had it a week, I want to make it available to others, and so I have posted a version here

__________________

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