If you wish to copy this text, please link back to this blog and accredit me, the author. Thank you.
Nb: If you find two pagans who agree, you haven’t found two pagans!
A pagan is person who practises a spiritual path; he or she follows either an established tradition under the “Pagan” umbrella or takes aspects of paganism, which are meaningful to him or her, and creates a way of living. A pagan is not somebody who only worships once a week or at special times in the year; a pagan path embraces all aspects of living and is a philosophy as well as a spirituality.
So what comes under the “Pagan” umbrella?
There are innumerable pagan paths: some draw on native religions such as the traditions and beliefs of Native Americans; some look to history and “re-kindle” Greek, Roman or Egyptian mythologies; then there are the neo-pagan religions of Wicca and the eclectic lifestyles and approaches of Green Witches, Hedgewitches and Kitchen Witches. There are Discordians and the followers of the Feri tradition, modern-day neo-shamans, magickians, wizards and witches. But not every pagan is a witch!
Pagans can be monotheists (believing in one god or goddess), polytheists (believing in two or more gods/goddesses), polyentheists (believing that god/goddess exists in all things) or even atheists (no belief in a god/goddess).
Paganism can (although does not have to) incorporate occult studies, and indeed some occultists would not describe themselves as pagan, although some definitely would. The occult world includes Thelemites (who follow the religion/philosophy of Aleister Crowley), Satanists (Satanism as created by Anton LeVey in the 1960s), Luciferians, Gnostics, Qabbalists … the list is virtually endless.
Isn’t it a bit vague having so many different paths under one word?
Yes and no. It can appear vague and confusing when you first approach paganism, but once you start learning, studying and exploring you will be overwhelmed with the richness both of paganism and the diversity of the people attracted to it. One thing is key amongst pagans: to accept the path that the other person walks. There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
Is paganism a cult?
No, paganism is not a cult. There is no one figure who commands all pagans. Even though there are occasionally oddballs proclaiming that they are, for example, King or Queen of the Witches, this is something rejected by pagans and usually cause for much hilarity.
We abhor bullying and coercion in any area of life and this is something that goes very much against the Pagan Path. To reiterate the previous answer: There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
The word “cult” is often used as a slur word to disparage someone else’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Often people using the word “cult” have their own agenda of conflict and negativity, rather than a true desire to promote spirituality and personal growth.
Are pagans devil worshippers?
The majority of pagans do not believe in the devil; Satan or the devil for them is a construct of Judeo-Christian religions and mythology. There is a lot of confusion in this area as the pagan image of, for example, Pan (who is the god of nature, hunting and revelry) has been subsumed into Christian culture as the epitome of “what the devil looks like”. Pan is by no means an evil god, and many pagans would even dispute the existence of evil itself, but would say that “evil” is energy just as “good” is energy: a gun is only a piece of metal until the gun-holder decides how to use it. This is a key point within paganism: there is no doctrine telling us what is wrong or right. We each carry a heavy responsibility as to how we use this “moral energy”. It would be easier if we were told what to do, but instead we have to cultivate self-awareness, respect of others, sensitivity to the environment, a knowledge of cause and effect and make our decisions bearing all this in mind within our spiritual framework.
Are pagans witches?
Some pagans are witches, but the majority are not. Many pagans do not practise witchcraft or spellwork. Witches can come in many guises: some are Wiccans, some Dianic witches, Green Witches, Hedgewitches, Kitchen witches, etc. Traditional witchcraft and Voodoo even draw on the spellcraft of Pennsylvanian Christian pow wow magic. Witchcraft is like a river with many tributaries feeding it – some of which lead to surprising sources.
What is a pagan ritual?
The answer to this will depend very much on which tradition you choose to work with. A pagan ritual in general will aim at focusing the energy of the person or participants (if it is group work); this energy can be drawn from themselves or from any of the Five Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether/Spirit, for example. Sometimes the energy is focused on sending healing to people, or on blessing the group, reconnecting with deity or many other things.
Rituals can be either in a group or worked individually. Rituals can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. The main point, however, is to learn the basics and for that there are many good books and (through the Herefordshire Moot) willing people to teach and advise you.
Do pagans believe in Jesus?
Some do and some do not. Many pagans believe in a wide variety of higher beings. Jesus is one of these beings for some pagans. Some believe he was a great spiritual teacher, but not a god. Some have no feelings about him at all.
Who is the pagan god?
There is no single pagan god. As mentioned before, some pagans believe in one god or goddess, some believe in two or more and some believe in none. It depends on the tradition you are called to work with.
What do pagans do?
Pagans are just like anybody else. You will find pagans working in industry, in the military, employed, unemployed, well, sick, happy, sad, divorced, married, hand-fasted (pagan marriage) and other. Most pagans will work around the pagan year honouring the equinoxes and solstices, marking the new moon and full moon. Some will do elaborate rituals in groups or on their own, some will do nothing more than light a candle and internally connect with what is important to them.
Do pagans pray?
Some pagans pray in what would be recognised as a “traditional way”, others use forms of meditation, drumming, chanting or dancing. There are many ways of connecting with deity and pagans are pragmatic in that, if it works, they’ll try it!
Where are the pagan churches?
Most pagans would say that their church is Nature and that She is where they worship. Others might say that when they cast a circle (create a sacred space), that is their church. Since pagans believe that deity is everywhere, however deity is conceived, the idea of a fixed building in which to worship is unnecessary.
How do you become a pagan?
Try firstly to read as much as you can about paganism and its different offshoots. Meet up with pagans. Ask lots of questions! When you feel the time is right, you will know how best to dedicate yourself to your chosen path and deity or deities. Most people begin with a personal, individual dedication. Groups, such as covens (not all groups of pagans are covens), do not usually allow people to join them until they have shown a commitment to studying and learning about that particular path. A moot, however, is a social environment for meeting pagans: you don’t even have to be pagan to come along, just bring your interest and respect for others.
What do I need to be a pagan?
You only need yourself and a sincere interest to learn, a yearning in your belly that this is where you belong, combined with an open heart and mind for your fellow pagans. No one is going to judge you if you step on this Path and decide at a later date it is not for you. Our Paths can be winding ones, and each step teaches us something valuable.
Why do people say bad things about pagans?
People often ridicule what they do not understand. Hollywood has also created many damaging and untrue stereotypes. This is why it is important for people genuinely interested in paganism to inform themselves from reputable authors and to meet up with real pagans. You cannot teach your paganism by watching “Charmed” or “The Craft” or any other light entertainment. Paganism is a spiritual way of living that requires commitment, soul-searching, self-awareness and hard work. Nothing worth having comes easily, but the joy of finding yourself on the right Path with like-minded others can’t be overestimated.
I originally had my Yule ritual planned for midday today, but then I woke unexpectedly a couple of hours before dawn. Once I saw the crescent moon and heard the wind gusting at the eaves, I knew I had to head out for sunrise. I donned my black head scarf and black shawl with its long fringes and laughed at myself as I strode down the streets heading for the river … I think I must have looked like a witch…
I was down by the river at 6.30 in the pitch dark. I cast off my spell into the waters, made my offering and then headed along the bank into the fields. The cows were just being herded in for milking. I’m glad I had my little torch with me as it helped me narrowly avoid a hedgehog who curled up and hid when I said hello. Across the dark fields which were laced with mist I saw trees silhouetted black against the horizon as dawn started to break.
Even in the dark I recognised a cluster of oak trees at the river edge laden with mistletoe. I leaned my back against one of them, waiting for sunrise. I looked up at the crescent moon glistening like a blade through the bare branches overhead, and out across the field at the emerging sun: beneath moonlight at sunrise … is there anywhere better in the world? As the sun rose I said my invocation prayer to Ra.
I scared a few fishermen before I left, which is always a bonus. Then I made my way home to a hearty breakfast and the most wonderful present from my dear, talented friend Arnametia. She has made me an athame from a naturally shed antler she collected in the woods during rutting season and a lapis lazuli crystal pyramid. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and I can barely let it out of my hand. I just want to sit and hold it.
This is a good day to begin what will be a good year… under oath to Meretseger, nedj her.
May the blessings of Ra kiss your forehead, and may you always feel the breath of your gods at your cheek.
The problem of names and definitions rears its head all too often in the pagan community. I can’t remember seeing this much confusion in my brief contact with the Roman Catholic Christian Church; but there they had a 2,000 year old history to draw on (however rocky the foundations and censored the progression of that history), and there are very clear rites of passage to becoming a Christian, or more important (to them) a Catholic. My mother believes that non-Catholic Christians are as bad as non-Christians; they are all wrong and therefore damned. That’s a very clear definition and boundary.
There is no such clarity in paganism, and most certainly little clarity on the term ‘witch’. As we progress along our own personal paths our tolerance to fluffydom fades and is quickly replaced by frustration, because that’s not what ‘we’ are, and others may judge us by their standards: they “give pagans a bad name”. Maybe.
I think labels can be very disingenuous, but people want to know how you label yourself, so they can compare you against the list of their own criteria and see where you fit into their world picture. This is human nature. We like to know where we stand with other people; are we singing from the same hymn sheet? The greatest disappointment can come when we assume that a person is one thing, and then further down the line we realise they are everything we despise; the shiny copper glamour of the initial meeting turns a green patina against the ravage of our elemental criticism.
I have spoken a few times on the blog about what I am, what label I go by. Naturally this changes over time as I consolidate the tendencies of my path. Changing labels – that’s something people dislike even more than not having a label! Often people have kindly urged me to ‘just be’, to defy the definition. Maybe. If I were to live in a solitary bubble not engaging with other pagans and non-pagans, then that would be fine. But conversation and discussion means we have to have common words, we have to agree on our definitions or never get passed “Hello, you’re a what?!”.
I know that it can be extremely threatening to some people when others start bandying around pagan categories: this is what makes you Wiccan; this is what makes you a witch. The fear is that they will fall betwixt and between and not find recognition in ‘the community’. As pagans we are already outsiders; insult to injury if we are then labelled outsiders by other Outsiders!
However, for the pagan community to be solid, for witches of all shades to have a chance at survival, we need to start looking at definitions, and what makes us who we are. The discussion is being had in small gatherings and circles all over the world. Everyone has an opinion. There is little consensus, and the fact is, we have no pagan pope to lay down the law, and if we did we would probably truss him up with the law stuffed in his gob and fling him off a cliff … actually maybe I’m projecting; that’s what I’d want to do with him, other pagans would most likely sit around him in a circle and blow incense and loving thoughts at him in the hopes that his spirit be released from the constraints of dogma. Yech!
I try very hard to let other people self-define. Yes, I balk at the Pagan Dudes who equate paganism to music festivals; at the fluffies who do not think beyond a love spell and write Isis with two hearts as dots over the ‘i’s. Grrrr. I can feel my blood boiling as I write. But I had a discussion earlier today with someone I respect and love greatly, and he has shown me that, actually, yes, I am irritated by people calling themselves something they are not. I’m quite quick to see who’s a doer and who’s a talker. Sometimes the talkers talk because they are scared of doing; they want it desperately but words are the closest they get to it. It’s hard to walk the line of respect for another’s limitations; especially when you agree with someone else’s criticism. Half the time I sit and bite my tongue. It’s not for me to say who or what a person is.
I suppose the summary of the current state of affairs is: take every label with a pinch of salt: the labels that people give themselves and the label you choose for yourself. I am still unsure how to label myself: I practise magick, I perform pagan rituals, I worship the gods of Egypt, I talk to spirits alive and dead – does that make me a witch? I don’t know. I deliberately choose the word ‘witch’ because there is such disagreement over what one is, that I think I could slip past the bodyguards at the door and party with the rest of them.
Ultimately I may disagree with how people define themselves, but I can’t judge them and their path. It’s how they get through life. If calling themselves a witch or Wiccan helps to give them strength to soldier on; who am I to question that? As frustrating as it may be at times. I rejoice in communion and like-mindedness wherever I find it, whatever its name. The important thing is to know where I am going. I am dedicated to the Egyptian gods. And even though my experience is a neophytic speck of dirt compared to others I know, magick is my life and focus for my future. I’ve gone too far to ever go back. So would you call me a witch…?
© starofseshat 2008
Yesterday I attended the Thelemic Symposium in Oxford. My motivation was intensely personal. As such I took no notes, so my impressions of the speakers are entirely subjective, probably skewed and flavoured with my own biases and opinions (what’s new?).
Once we had got over our initial hilarity at the location, which was essentially a scout-hut with bar at the back of a housing estate, we soon realised what an absolutely perfect site it was: private, comfortable with bar and food, and no prying eyes of locals. Inside, the stage area was decorated with curtains and a beautiful arched painting of Nuit. She took my breath away and I looked at her often throughout the day.
Unfortunately the DuQuettes were absent, so the number of talks dropped to 6. First off were Peter Grey and his partner on Babalon. Each read their own incredibly evocative and thrilling interpretations of Babalon, the Whore, the Scarlet Woman. (I notice a discrepancy here in my understanding of their work, and TGW’s notes – this I think reflects my bias in favour of Babalon.) Their Babalon was a strong, indefatigable woman, independent and raw; she was the Babalon of two people in love; and the Babalon who challenged all preconceptions including those of Thelema. They called on Thelemites to reject dogma and to commit blasphemy to infuse new life into a partially degenerate philosophy that needed to change to respond and be relevant to the times. The raw sexual language was beautiful, challenging and ultimately deeply arousing. I later overcame my innate shyness to ask them for copies of their work because I very much want to read through both texts at my leisure.
A couple of talks later, this particular image of Babalon was shaken to its roots by Melissa Harrington who spoke about Thelema and The Feminine. (I would just like to say I admired her spirit and thoroughly enjoyed her talk. It’s only because she posed such interesting ideas, that I feel able to engage in discussion and disagree with some of her points of reference.) Her first words, though not unkind, were to Peter Grey and partner, saying, “Come back when you’ve had children and tell me again about Babalon.” I prickled at what I felt was a rather dismissive statement. Her talk went on to question the role of women in Thelema; that because the structure has been so male dominated since its inception, that there are not enough provisions made for women, either in a spiritual sense or practically in the form of crèches at rituals. She looked at the audience and marked everyone as a first generation believer, and wondered how on earth anyone could be expected to bring up a child in Thelema with the lack of structure and openness to families and children. This was a fair point, but one that could have been made in isolation. Instead she cited Crowley’s behaviour with a string of women, the drugs, the abandonment and death through negligence of some of the children. She found this an unacceptable basis for a religion; that women were essentially given sexual freedom but not the power to deal with it. This is true, and perhaps because I don’t see Crowley as a prophet, but more as an inspired madman, I have no issue in taking the good and leaving the bad: when you start talking about “religion” then people start wanting absolutes; they want their prophets to be flawless and their gods to be manifest in dogma. Untidiness irritates such people. And such people irritate me. Whether it is directly Crowley’s responsibility or actually a failure of responsibility by the women themselves, I find harder to say, and the discussion smacks to me slightly of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Are the personality flaws of Crowley then, still relevant now? Can’t we take the best of his work and just move forward with it? If we are looking to him as a cult leader, then his personality flaws certainly create stumbling blocks; but if he is an inspiration, in the true sense of the word as a source that inspires us to other things, then I don’t see that it matters.
Another thing that riled me slightly, was that all of these points could have stood strongly on their own without bringing in the image of Babalon. She said that Babalon was a whore, and a male wet-dream, that ultimately Crowley did not question the motivation of whores and the desperation that drove them to whoredom. A fair point to a degree. But she ultimately robbed Babalon of any power, citing her childlessness as indicative of the barren nature of her symbolism, and that consequently this barrenness was being expressed in current day Thelema by the lack of provision for women and children, and the concomitant outcome that no one at the conference had been brought up as a Thelemite. Two points need addressing here: one – I HATE the way women who have had children then interpret everything in their lives thereafter from the perspective of motherhood as the pinnacle of female achievement. I understand that to them it is the most momentous thing of their lives. But to invoke childlessness as an expression of barrenness, negativity, lack of self, lack of will, slavery to male sexuality is in my opinion entirely missing the point of Babalon. She is an independent woman figure desired by man. She holds tremendous power. I have seen so many women lose any sense of self and individuality to their children; so many merge and become solely the power engine for their brood. Rightly so. If you are going to bring a being into the world, it is your responsibility to give that being everything you can. I am not criticising this. What I criticise is the assumption that childless women are less because they do NOT sacrifice themselves for their children. (This was implicit rather than explicit in her talk; it was unaddressed and hence bugged me big time.) For me, Babalon is a powerful Goddess that represents the ultimate in freedom. Does feminist freedom always have to be entirely and utter split from men? Can’t we be free and still in relationship with men? And if it is right to sacrifice yourself to your children whom you love, why is it suddenly wrong to sacrifice yourself to a man you love? The second point is that my understanding of Thelema is that it is a spiritual path which requires a spiritual awakening: it needs you to make the realisation of will to undertake the path; it is not a philosophy that can be taught at Sunday school. It is the philosophy of adults searching for a way to the divine. By trying to force a familial pattern of parental guidance on Thelema, she is trying (in my opinion) to make a tomato out of a chestnut.
Her second partial criticism was how women often came to Thelema through a male partner, but that often the women remained in Thelema once that original partnership dissolved. She used this as indicative of the non-woman friendly feeling in Thelema. Again, I disagree and believe that the reason for this is perhaps slightly more complicated. Thelema, the Gnostic mass and other tenets, are very sexual; to an outsider they could appear (indeed in some ways ARE) sexually aggressive. In today’s world I think there are very few women who would feel comfortable entering such a scene on their own, however great their interest. So perhaps the fact that women often approach Thelema through a male partner is less about emphasizing the male dominance and male leadership in Thelemic male/female relationships, than it is about reflecting the sad status of our society, that women are often frightened of overt, public expression of sexuality and feel safer approaching it all through a male partner whom they trust will keep them safe (at least until they have gained trust and confidence in the community).
The second talk was The 5 Senses in AMOOKOS and Tantrik Traditions, by Mike Magee. This was a fairly basic introduction to the idea of Tantra; the balance of Shakti and Shiva, the balance of male and female internally. The only new bit of information for me was gleaned from a training level in the AMOOKOS tradition, where initiates were called on to practice sense focus for a period of 26 weeks: one week they would focus on sight and keep a journal about (for example) the different shades of grey they saw through the week; the second week focused on taste; the third on hearing; the fourth on touch; the fifth on smell and the sixth represented ether and was a week of meditating on the present, of grounding and feeling utterly in the moment. This sequence was repeated over the 26 weeks, by the end of which you would have an extensive diary of your sensory experiences, which often led to certain changes in the initiate and the integration of disparate memories and sensory experiences. An integrity of being seemed to be the ultimate focus, but the final outcome depended entirely on the initiate’s own experiences and it was up to them to apply interpretations and learn from their experiences. This is a practice I am considering working through, as it could be very useful for my Kundalini practice.
Following Melissa Harrington, there was a talk by Charlotte Rodgers on Taboo & Blood Rites. There was in my mind very little information on generic blood rites, and it was more of a personal journey using blood; this was fascinating and I warmed to this woman greatly. She discussed the difference between venous blood and menstrual blood. She cited personal experience, which I don’t think it is appropriate to go into here. She touched on the subject of Mayan yoga, as in Maya/illusion. Performing this type of yoga in front of mirrors covered in blood symbols draws out aspects of self. This encourages a splitting of self to enable working on manifest aspects of self.
After this there was a talk on Goetic Magick by Jake Stratton-Kent. His experience seemed focused primarily on the Grimoirum Verum. The content of his talk passed me by, the prime interest for me came in the question time where he talked more openly about spirits with whom he had what he termed a “marriage type relationship”. These relationships were concrete things that he worked on as any other kind of relationship. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way that he spoke about spirits. His relationship with them seemed more concrete than my own, but the way he spoke of them as such an integral part of his life – “I get along with some spirits better than I do with some people” – this rung true for me, and I felt he was speaking my language.
The final talk was given by a young German man, David Beth, Into the Meon – Inside Voudon Gnosis. His English was excellent, but unfortunately he assumed that everyone in the audience was privy to certain knowledge, that TGW and I mostly certainly were not. Consequently we were unable to follow the thread and missed out on learning much of anything. I’m sure that wasn’t the case for the more learned people in the audience. What did strike me was that in his tradition blood shares a cosmic essence with the “upper world”. The junction where these two essences meet in the adept is the hieros gamos. He also spoke of a concept called Las Prise des Yeaux, which is a form of esoteric vision of objects where you view the spiritual essence in all things animate and inanimate (another practical exercise in the offing).
This is a censored and curtailed version of the event, and hence the text at times appears a little choppy, for which I apologise. I took some hefty secateurs to it to make it publicly palatable Some things are not appropriate for public consumption, some things are too personal to me to convey. Let it just be said, that this was a hugely important day for me and I will definitely be going next year.
© starofseshat 2008
In Arthur Versluis’ The Philosophy of Magic he writes:
“There is one aspect of invocation that must be reiterated: the difference between expulsion of the demonic and invocation of the daimonic… the invocation of devic or celestial influences implies the expulsion of the lower, bestial or demonic creatures which ordinarily inhabit the mind of man – the demons of desire and hatred… Each time we manifest desire or aversion, we are bringing to life, signing a pact with, one of the demons of ego.
The reason the true magus – in the vernacular – ‘consorts with demons’ is to expulse those inner forms of ego. Every instant, every day that one lives without having expulsed those demons is a day lived in a tacit pact with them…For these reasons, the popular image of the magician as one who ‘consorts with demons’ is at once ironic … and accurate…”
This passage struck a chord with me, not least because it was a topic I was discussing with a friend not too long ago. He said that anything in your life which controls you instead of you controlling it, is demonic and calls for some kind of exorcism. That in itself resonated as I feel that I am undergoing an exorcism of my past at the moment which is freeing me physically and mentally. I know a couple of people who have confided in me that they are scared of their own alcohol intake that it is potentially problematic and yet they do nothing to change the situation – this could be classed (according to the above definition) as a form of demonic possession. Compulsive eating is demonic as the sufferer of this condition is most definitely under the control of the disorder, not the other way around. The uniting thread seems to be compulsion, a forcing of our will away from the middle path, often away from what we know is good for us: a compulsion to self-harm through excessive food, excessive alcohol, dangerous relationships or >insert your chosen ‘sin’ here<. Although I know that some people may get their knickers in a twist about me suggesting even indirectly that their ‘weaknesses’ are demonic and they are in need of an exorcism, I hope that they can overcome the knee-jerk response (which may indeed be the inner demon recoiling at being uncovered!) and consider the concept. I find the idea of almost personalizing the compulsions within very interesting. We can often recognise the compulsion, the end-product as it were, but not know the origins which is why we throw ourselves into therapy or compulsive repetition of our errors – so easily one demon can become legion within us if we don’t deal with the original intruder; after all, once demon number one has settled into the comfort of an entrenched ego, why wouldn’t he send out a general invite to his mates?
Yes, I am being flippant, but the concept still holds and it is helping me compartmentalise a mess of feelings inside me. So once the demon is identified, the question is, what to do? I think that is a personal decision, and I would not give a generalised answer to that when someone may take it as law and run with the idea right over a cliff (metaphorically speaking … although isn’t that what Jesus did with the devil whose name was ‘Legion’?). I am still pondering the nature of my demons, and bizarrely the thought of them doesn’t scare me. Colin Wilson wrote a fantastically interesting novel called The Mind Parasites – creatures that have colonised the minds of all men [sic] and who control the fate of mankind by remaining hidden in the depths of the unconscious. After reading that book you never look at the dark, quiet corners of your own mind in the same way again! But where as these parasites frightened me, the concept of the demonic doesn’t. I am keen to know them, because once known, once I have their name, I will be able to oust them from my being and I find that a very positive thought; just as once I admitted that my illness was psychosomatic, rather than clasping a sweaty hand to my forehead and curling up in victim mode at the wasted years and torments of my own mind (!) I felt hugely rejuvenated and empowered. Real chronic physical ailments are sometimes manageable but never curable. By admitting the potential psychosomatic origins of my illness, I have unleashed a flood of energy and uncovered some dark corners with the light optimism: if it is in my mind, then I can conquer it and be well. If the compulsions are demonic, I can know them and expel them. Of this I have no doubt.
The other aspect to this concept is that ego and habit energy is the resting place and breeding ground for such demonic energies. So logically, a two-pronged attack both on ‘knowing your demons’ and on breaking down ego and habit energy would be the most successful. I feel that the last month when I was riding on an artificial high (as genuine as it felt at the time, it was un-real), I was actually surfacing the wave of my ego. It felt good, it felt great, if felt compulsively, addictively wonderful – like too much chocolate, too much coffee, too much sex. And ultimately it was ‘too much’ of everything, it took me away from the middle path and I lost myself in ‘feeling’. I brought a lot back from the journey – there are things I learned – but it showed me once again how deceptive the path of ego can be. We think we are being true to ourselves, when actually we are living a fantasy.
So there are a few essentials for me that come from the concept of the demonic: as Dion Fortune indicates in her book Psychic Self-Defence, the greatest protection is being very grounded in this life, being grounded enough to give a belly laugh at a good film. I am finding my Kundalini yoga supremely grounding; it is what broke the cycle of flying high-higher-highest and brought me gently back to earth. I am now incorporating a minimum of two meditation sessions a day, where I can tune back into myself and check how far I have strayed off the Beauty Path. And this new moon I shall be beginning some ritual work to face my demons. I have Sobek to my left and Anubis to my right, and I am more than ready to stare into the mouth of Apophis. May Osiris bless me and my path. It’s time to know the demons, and really know my Self.
© starofseshat 2008
I thought it was about time to look at issues surrounding the “secrecy of the Craft” or “oaths of secrecy”. Naturally when talking about such secrets, the nature of secrecy will depend greatly on what the secrets are!
Some secrets cannot be expressed because they are inexpressible. This would include direct contact with deity, the feelings and experiences within a circle or during a ritual. In some ways it falls under the banal disclaimer, “You had to be there.” Any attempt to convey such experiences will fall short, make you sound like a fool and potentially confuse and misdirect your listener, so in that sense, save yourself the trouble and just button it (or not, it’s up to you ).
I came across a quote in a book:
“My mind is not so timid that I deny the existence of mysteries. But I am wary of those who profess to live by them, who, with their finger to their lips, proclaim themselves God’s elect and keep the uninitiated in ignorance.”
Jacques De Bourbon Busse, Moi, Cesar in Tutankhamen, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt
This is a key point for me and one I am sure that has seen many pagans flee their childhood major religions in search of something more … dare I say? … honest. Considering the Christian-bashing that I have seen go on amongst pagans, it makes me laugh when I repeatedly see the same power structures being built and the same Babel Tower threatening to fall in pagan circles.
… Who am I? I am a group that requires initiation that has a series of grades. At each grade you will become privy to more information that is just not suitable for outsiders or those of a lower grade. You are beholden to the leaders of the group, who by virtue of being the leaders and possessing all the information you aspire to knowing, are worthy of respect. And whether you understand or not, you listen and obey. After all, who are you to question those higher than you? Am I Christian, pagan or something of an occult variety? Is the initiation baptism, renunciation of self, ritual acceptance into a group? Are the grades Golden Dawn, Wiccan or merely the grades from layperson, to deacon, to priest etc.? Are the leaders we are supposed to honour and take our teachings from Wiccan high priests and priestesses, Adepti Exempti, priests or popes? …
It doesn’t take a genius to draw the parallels, and yet our questioning of such structures seems to stop at the major religions most of us rejected, and doesn’t carry over to the new paths we are currently walking. For me, there is something inherently suspect in someone who places themselves in a position of spiritual superiority, by virtue of their training or whatever else.
Sometimes people are just too precious about their occult/hidden information, which makes me think they know very little and are trying to defend themselves against too many questions, which would reveal them for the frauds that they are. On the other hand, I have seen some people on forums hint loudly at the occult knowledge they are privy to, only to drop a penny’s worth on the table, just to prove that they do indeed know it. So what happened to the importance of secrecy? Or is it just a cloak to wave around dramatically to enhance your sense of self-importance, while roaring “mwha-ha-ha-ha” into the wings? Well, really.
However, having made a minor plea for openness and for questioning “spiritual” hierarchies, I will not say that there should be an information free-for-all, available to all and sundry. Specifically when it comes to magic – witchcraft, ritual, ceremonial or other – there has to be at the least a major degree of discretion. As I wrote to MS, there is most definitely information that someone outside such circles or a beginner just wouldn’t be able to comprehend without a certain amount of practice and experience behind them. But I view this along the lines of a technical engineer talking in detail about a texturizing machine to a toddler. The toddler may only hear, “insert here” and understand none of the additional information; consequently they insert their finger and it’s chopped off! Just as I don’t consider myself superior to a child (I may have more experience, but I am not superior), so I don’t feel like any kind of Übermensch in relation to those who are further back on the path, or who actually aren’t even interested in this path.
A certain amount of secrecy really is for the good of all, at least until you have done the groundwork and are ready to understand. But this way of thinking is not meant to exclude, it should invite people (if they are interested) to start the journey of learning, doing, experiencing and knowing.
Out of respect and moral care for certain others, let there be an element of secrecy. But don’t use secrecy as a weapon to beat those less knowledgeable, or those honestly reaching out for a helping hand. We are all children in the eyes of our Gods, and as Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” And as Seshat says, “The only joy is in starting to learn all the things you don’t know!”
© starofseshat 2008
The terms Left-Hand Path and Right-Hand Path stem from the Tantric tradition and are concepts still in use today. There are three major schools of Tantra: Kaula, Mishra and Samaya. Kaula Tantra uses external practices and rituals, as opposed to the Samaya School which is a completely internal process. Kaula Tantra is divided into the Left-Hand Path (vamachara, or vama marga) and includes external rituals involving sexual practices, eating meat and the consumption of intoxicants; and the Right-Hand Path (dakshinachara) which uses a symbolic expression of these rituals and is characterised by ascetism and meditation. Both paths are viewed as equally valid paths to enlightenment. The LHP however is actually viewed as the faster but more dangerous route.
The terms first came into use in the West through the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky (1831 – 1891). She referred to religions she thought of as good as of the RHP and those she thought of as bad (specifically those involving sexual rites) as of the LHP. The terms were taken up by other occultists such as Aleister Crowley.
Aleister Crowley used these terms to describe a stage of spiritual development which required the adept to shed any traces of ego and leap in full faith into the void. If the adept had not managed to abandon these layers of self, then the layers would ossify around him; ultimately he would disintegrate against his own will. The adept who did not abandon self was referred to as the “Brother of the Left-Hand Path”. As you can see, Crowley’s own assessment of the LHP was not exactly positive as it marked a failure in the adept’s path, and yet he is seen in the popular mind as being associated with Satanism, which proudly defines itself as an LHP. Of course, Crowley predated any of the popular Satanism à la Anton LaVey, which is where we see the practice of some LHP belief systems of inverting the symbols of the RHP – hence inverted crucifixes.
Below is a table briefly outlining some of the differences between the paths.
Belief that we can become divine in our own right
Belief in a deity/deities
Narcissism – altruism is just long-term selfishness and a form of self-deception.
Flexible morality that bends to the achievement of our own goals – all actions should aim to cultivate the self (but not necessarily the ego)
Belief in moral codes such as the Threefold Law, Mosaic Law, Karma etc. that stem from a higher power
Preservation of self and personal power
Ultimate goal is to merge with God consciousness/integration with deity and to lose self
Sexual rites, animal sacrifice, meat-eating, consumption of drugs and alcohol
Belief that the forces of the universe can be harnessed, and that an equal partnership is struck with deity figures to achieve your own goals
Belief that deity will provide; saviour belief; deity is a higher power not an equal
From this we can see that there is no set, defined moral code followed by LHP practitioners. Their aim is self-development and temporal, more materialistic and worldly aims; and yet I would doubt that practitioners who would align themselves with the RHP cannot see aspects of themselves in the LHP and vice versa. Some people use these terms to deliberately move away from the dichotomy of black and white magic which they see as too cut and dry. They consider these two paths to be yin and yang – necessary complements that create a balance. Like the yin/yang symbol there is perhaps a spot of LHP in RHP practitioners and a spot of RHP in LHP practitioners.
Personally, I cannot see how total preservation of self, self-indulgence and narcissism can lead to enlightenment, and I wonder if modern-day practitioners, for example, of LHP magic have enlightenment as their goal as posited by the original Tantric concept, or whether it has degenerated to a search for self-satisfaction. My ultimate aim IS to merge with deity, this is the purpose of my magic-work, to align myself ever closer with deity. But to survive in this world, I do think we need a healthy sense of self-preservation and self-motivation. My views mix the God will provide idea with the idea that we can harness the energies of the universe. In Egyptian mythology, heka (magic) was given to us as a tool from the gods so that we can help ourselves. In that sense, we are neither relying entirely on divine intervention, nor do we believe that we are the sole orchestrators of our magic work. I am a priestess to my deities. I serve them, but I am not servile.
It would be easy to give a knee-jerk response to the LHP and to vociferously align ourselves with the side of the “Good” RHP, but I think that would be too easy and a cop out of examining our own true motivations. Whatever we may wish to be, on reflection I think we may find that we are all a bit ambidextrous!
© starofseshat 2008
I recently read a book by a spiritualist which not only detailed her own life journey but incorporated exercises for getting in touch with your guardian spirit. A couple of things in the book stuck in my craw, one of which was her position on taking hallucinogenic drugs to facilitate contact with the spirit world. I hasten to add that this was not something she advocated for her readers, but it was part of her own spiritual experience. Suddenly her credibility in my eyes was severely tarnished.
I am not going to start criticising native shamanic cultures, or religions such as the Native American Church with its use of peyote. From my time amongst the Navajo, and after having met a member of the NAC, I have great respect for what they do and who they are. Why then do I find it so difficult to take a white British person seriously when they go down the peyote route?
Part of my response is definitely influenced by Ward Churchill’s brilliant book “Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America”. In this, he posits the idea that physical genocide of Native Americans may have ceased but the cultural appropriation by white people of Native American spirituality is just another blow in a long line of exploitation. He encourages Europeans to look to their own root cultures to find the native spirituality of their own lands.
This is harder than it may seem though. Unlike most Native Americans, we Europeans/white Americans are a mongrel breed with roots everywhere. I have roots in Britain, France, Germany and Poland (and I have only gone back 3 generations to get that list). So where are my roots? I think this sense of homelessness is what has driven so many Europeans to latch onto the strength that they see in North American native spirituality. In Germany I met a girl who dressed in suede-fringed jackets and wore a feather in her hair. She felt she was honouring NAs, I felt she was insulting them by mimicking something she patently wasn’t. I have attended a Reiki healing class where the teacher danced around with a Native American drum. As effective as it was, I wondered how appropriate it was for this man of Hungarian/British origins to do?
I have no answers on the question of appropriating native religions that are not our “own”. I have my opinions, but it is a complex subject. I would just urge you to read Ward Churchill’s book, if you can.
The main focus of my question here is how reliable, necessary and helpful is it to incorporate drug experience into ritual and spiritual development? Wow, I can hear so many of you revving up your fingers to respond please do.
From my perspective, drug taking is the ultimate in materialistic spirituality. I have written before about my dislike of relying to heavily on the tools of magic to the detriment of your spiritual connection. If you cannot cast a circle comfortably without an athame, and if you cannot communicate with your deities without various arcane accoutrements, how sincere is your practice? Relying on hallucinogenic drugs to achieve a connection with spiritual worlds is the ultimate crutch, and in my opinion, you may as well chop off your spiritual legs while you’re at it. I am lucky in that I have always been able to achieve an altered state at will. Sometimes it is harder than others. Ultimately practice and hard work are the keys.
There is no way you can entirely rely on your experiences while under drugs. I have read a fair bit about neurology and psychology, and am very aware of how chemical changes can alter our sense of reality – reality has not changed, merely our perception of it. You may think, great, this is what I need, to change my perception, to open up my mind to connect with the Other. But I think you are more likely to connect with a self-deluded and potentially dark side of your own nature. I have a friend who, while on drugs, hallucinated that she kept turning into a skeleton. So was she “connecting” with Death? Communicating with the “other side”? No, she was being faced with an internal, subconscious issue that she was by no means ready to deal with at that point. Drugs take down your barriers, they leave you bare and vulnerable, and ultimately incompetent. I have another friend who insisted that hash made her more creative. When I said it made my head spin in circles, she shook her head and said I hadn’t learnt to “use it properly”; but she had the skill and her creativity benefited from it. Bullshit. She sat at home day-dreaming pipe dreams of all the things she was going to do; she started tens of courses and never completed one; she started losing friends (including me) because she became the opposite of the person I originally fell in love with. She was a vacuum of creativity that threatened to pull me in and destroy my own. She was not going to change, I beat a hasty exit.
Spirituality and magic are (in my mind) about self-discipline, focus and about honouring your deity. What honour is there in being high? That is just self-indulgent and lazy. Being high while doing magic is dangerous and irresponsible, and you get what you deserve.
Surely the point is to clear away the clutter to make a straight path to our deity? Taking drugs and thinking you can be “more spiritual”, “more connected with the Other Side”, “more powerful as a magician” is just like striking out across a bog; you may get to the other side, then again you may get stuck, stagnant, incapable of moving at all – and your Journey, for this life at least, will be over.
© starofseshat 2008
p.s. apologies for the dreadul pun title. Couldn’t resist it!
For many years I wrestled with the idea of spellwork. My thoughts at that time were based on the philosophical premise that a butterfly’s wings flapping in the rainforest can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world, i.e. every action has a reaction. Unlike Newton’s third law of motion stating that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”, my belief escalated the theory into something of disproportionate and devastating scale. It’s hard to see why I wasn’t paralysed in my daily life, crippled by this fear of the uncontrolled reaction. Nowadays, I understand that the fabric of the universe is made of sterner stuff; and my teenage delusion that what I do and believe impacts equally on others has disappeared in a puff of adult reality.
This search for the morality of spellwork was not aided by listening to the experience of active spellworkers. The goals they worked towards seemed materialistic and their motivations often petty. I was chilled by the callous disregard shown by some for anyone that may have been affected by the fall-out of their spell: one Wican (spelling here deliberate) shrugged off the fact that someone else had been fired so that he could get a promotion and take their place; another wizard still brags about making his ex-girlfriend a sex slave in revenge and actually garners admiration from his peers! Encounters with people such as this made me feel I wanted nothing to do with spellwork (whether their claims were real or fantasy). And yet the urge and the questioning continued, and eventually I realised that I was equating the shoddy craftsman with the delicate tool. The tool is neutral, it is the craftsman who applies the skill and turns a hunk of wood into a guillotine or a prayer stool.
In realising this I was still left with a crucial question: what goal is worth doing a spell for? Some people think that the temptation to spell your way through life is too great, and that by doing spells we avoid the real graft and become lazy and immature as a result of avoiding the natural challenges that life brings. But the person who thinks that all you need to cast a spell is to wave a wand, light a candle and mutter a few words is mistaken. The self-examination, research and planning that go into an effective spell equal, in my mind, any efforts I may make on the physical plane. The fact is that in spite of the spell, I will still have to make the effort to facilitate the change I am working towards. You can’t cast for a new job, and then not fill in any application forms. A spell will move the energy in the intended direction, you will be amazed at supportive coincidences and opportunities will arise, where years of previous effort have left you with nothing. There are rules. There are dangers. Sometimes the self-examination which I think is essential will lead you to discover that you don’t actually want what thought you did – hence the serious need for contemplation and precise formulation of your goal.
Ultimately it is a tool, gifted to us by the gods. Used wisely it can be a great thing, giving you a real sense of connection to your deity and aiding you in your path. Used unwisely and without consideration, it can be destructive, chaotic and harmful to both you and those around you. Good intention is not enough – even well-intended fools can cause harm.
© starofseshat 2008
You would be forgiven for thinking that a large part of being a witch is spellwork. I know several people who do not do spellwork, at all, ever. I have been privy to some forum discussions where spellwork is discouraged as vehemently as masturbation by a Catholic priest. Admittedly, sexuality in any form is not a known focus of Catholicism, but spellwork is popularly believed to be a crucial focus of what it is to be a witch. I wonder if this antagonism towards spell-workers is in part a back-lash against anything that would endanger the earthy, reasonable image that some witches wish to present. I won’t go into the old argument of ‘Is witchcraft a religion or a craft of skills’ here. Take it as read that in this context I and many others view witchcraft as a religion: a way of marking the passing of the year, or linking into the creative spirit of elements and of communing with our gods – it is a way of living.
It is not irony that has so many witches (part of a fringe minority in society) trying so hard to be accepted, respectable good witches of the community – I suppose along the lines of the “village wise woman” – no, not irony but human nature. My Jewish background is not unique in giving me a feeling that it is safer belonging to the majority, it is safer not to be too visible, too different, too provocative. I have no criticism of these sincere men and women who do honour to god and goddess in their own way; and certainly on forums where there is a high predominance of teenage members, it is wise not to be too flippant about spellwork without making them fully aware of the risks and hazards involved. However, I do question the outright disregard of spellwork and the “looking down their nose” disapproval of anyone who dares to be different and explore other aspects of spirituality. Now that IS ironic – who suddenly made you the inquisitor? Would it not be wiser to have a thorough debate on the ethics of spell-working instead? To engender debate not stamp it out? Somehow the idea that we don’t need spells because Goddess will provide is a little too akin to the Christian philosophy expressed in Matthew 6: “Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” And Matthew 6:31-32 “So do not worry; do not say. ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’ It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things.” (Yay for the pagans!) Hence any spellwork is doubting and testing the beneficence of god/goddess – “You must not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 6:7). I accept and respect many of the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian religions, but I do find it unpalatable when certain witches, who are often the first to accuse all priests of being paedophiles and to hark on about the (questionable number of) “nine million” witches persecuted and killed by Christians, that their very own outlook is so coloured by Christian morality. Not only that, but that their morality is the only right way and anyone else advocating a different path should be excommunicated from polite, witchy company. If you wish to hold this ethical stance, fine. But lay off the Christian-bashing or you may find you are beating your own head black and blue.
According to the Ancient Egyptians, Heka (magic, or magical power) was a gift from the deities; a tool to improve our lives and to protect us. Just as an engineer or surgeon undergoes intense training and thought before being let loose with the tools of his trade, so a witch must learn the tools of hers and give equal thought to the ethics of her work.
(More on the ethics of spells and guidelines for spellwork another day)
© starofseshat 2008