New To The Craft

August, 2009

The Ritual Connection

From time immemorial we have desired guidance from the God/dess, and sought ways in which we can connect with and honor those powers we hold in reverence.  Many in the mainstream find prayer or meditation to fulfill their needs in this area, or they attend services where they can participate to a limited extent in the ceremonies led by the priests of their congregation.  The purpose of such rituals is to enact symbolic events that the observers understand to hold a deeper meaning than the actions themselves.  Realization of that meaning on the mental, emotional, and spiritual levels unites the individual with the divine.  But while churches tend to leave most of the actions to the clerics and expect their constituents to connect passively, Wicca invites all of its members to participate directly in its ritual workings, whether solitary or as part of a coven.

If you are working as a solitary there is no one to direct the course of a ritual for you.  As a matter of fact it can be difficult to make a start as a beginner.  What do I do?  Am I doing this right?  These are common questions that pop up when working rituals on one’s own instead of in a group setting or coven.  Several good books will provide a basic outline for common sabbat or esbat ceremonies, but even then it can sometimes feel as if you are reading a script more than invoking a deity.  Yet part of the beauty of Wicca is that you do not have to follow a script!  Witches celebrate spontaneity, as is fitting for an earth-based spiritual practice.  Many Wiccans create their own rituals based solely on the inspiration of the moment and their setting.  It is the feeling and intent they put into their words that matters, not the phrases themselves.  Knowing this takes the stress out of solitary ritual – What do I do?  Do what you feel is right!  Am I doing this right?  If it feels right then yes!  That may sound a bit glib, but the point of the matter is to just let go and forget about making mistakes. It is next to impossible to connect to a deity if you are wound up with worry.

That being said, just as most Wiccans share a common language of symbols and tools, most also follow a general structure in their rituals to identify it as Wiccan.  While no part is mandatory to an individual, these steps would be part of most group rituals, and each part has its purpose and place.  An excellent book that explains the reasoning behind the stages of a Wiccan rite is The Elements of Ritual by Deborah Lipp.  Before adding or omitting any steps it would be wise to study each part to know how those changes might affect the overall working.

Typically the first stage involves purification of both the participant and the area where the ritual is to take place.  Purify in this sense is another way of saying clearing one’s head and getting in the right frame of mind to connect to the God/dess.  This can be as simple as a grounding and centering exercise or as elaborate as a perfumed bath.  Most practitioners find a routine specific to them that they can rely on to trigger the correct mental state.  Purifying the space is the act of setting an area apart from being just an ordinary room and clearing it of any negative energy in preparation for ritual.  A besom or broom, sprinkled salt water, and/or incense are common ways to accomplish this.  The area you are working in will be host to the temple you create while there, and should be an outer reflection of your inner centered state.

A Wiccan’s ritual temple is held within the magic circle.  Such a circle is formed by the will and imagination of the participant, forming a barrier against outside intrusions and also serving to concentrate any energy generated within.  Covens and traditional forms of Wicca have very specific methods for circle castings, with the High Priestess using her athame or sword to project a visualized blue-white flame while pacing the outlines of the circle in a clockwise direction.  The representations of each element upon the altar are often brought around the circle as well, always in a clockwise or deosil direction.  Once the circle is established many Wiccans “call the quarters”, which is to say they invoke the energies associated with each of the cardinal points.  All of these actions reinforce the equilibrium maintained within the sacred space that is necessary to connect to the higher spiritual planes.  In a sense the witch is projecting their centered state into the area around them and calling upon forces within or beyond themselves to bless the work they intend to do.

Now the way is prepared for the main purpose of the ritual, which is the invocation of the God/dess and any magical or ceremonial work to be done.  Invocations can be anything from spoken prayers to words uttered while in self-induced trance states.  To invoke deity is to ask for guidance and blessing.  What we feel we cannot accomplish or realize on our own we ask to be aided with.  We can also invoke the divine out of simple reverence and a desire to honor that which is greater than but also part of ourselves.  Acknowledging the God/dess in our rituals makes the work we do sacred and set apart from the everyday.  We call upon what is highest and best to witness our endeavors.  And each time we do we hope to bring a bit of that spirit into our awareness to enrich our lives as a whole.

If the occasion calls for any magical work or special observance (for instance if it is a sabbat or esbat) it is typically performed after the invocation.  When all practical work has been accomplished it is time to reverse the process and deconstruct the sacred space.  This serves to bring the witch back into a more ordinary consciousness.  First the participant should ground any left over raised energy.  Visualizations can be used, as can the tradition of Cakes and Ale.  Eating a bit of food helps bring your focus back to your body and the material plane.  Any deities invoked or energies called upon should be thanked for their aid and released.  This is not so much a dismissal as a courteous farewell.  If you invite someone in its rather rude to have them show themselves out!  Traditional Wiccan practice has a variety of ways of circle deconstruction, but in its basic form the energy used to create the circle is reabsorbed either into the witch or his/her athame for future use.  With that the ritual is complete!

With this basic outline a solitary Wiccan has a tool to create any custom ritual for their own purposes.  The heart of the ritual is the invocation and practical working, which is only limited by the imagination of the individual.  I have a simple candle ceremony I have worked into my sabbat rituals to honor the Goddess in her triple aspect of maiden-mother-crone.  On my altar I keep a white, a red, and a black candle, and at the appropriate point in the year when the Goddess’s phase changes I transfer the flame from one to the other.  This is done with a silent prayer of welcome for the new aspect that has arrived and I meditate for a bit to try to connect with the new energies.  Such an observance is not elaborate or accompanied by eloquent poetry, but it works for its purpose which is to help me connect with my deity.  This is the true function of all religious ritual.  It just takes a bit of experimentation to help the new witch find out what works for them.

Journal for the Month of July:

I’m reading two new books this month, Progressive Witchcraft by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, and Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen.  The first is a very interesting read after having read A Witches’ Bible which was written by the Farrars a couple of decades ago.  It definitely reflects an evolution of Wicca and witchcraft over the decades, at least from one person’s perspective.  I am currently on a chapter that relates aspects of witchcraft to the Eastern chakra system.  I found it extremely interesting in that it draws parallels between the blue of the throat chakra and the blue flames visualized in traditional rituals and circle castings.  In my last ritual I connected each quarter call to the opening of the chakra connected to that element and was pleasantly surprised by the results.  It helped me connect my visualizations to the energy I was projecting, a stronger macrocosm-microcosm connection if you will.

The second book has been extremely interesting not just in learning more about classical goddess archetypes, but also more about myself.  The author makes a distinction between three classes of goddesses: the independent virgins, the vulnerable relationship-orientated wives/ mothers/daughters, and the transformative Aphrodite (in a class all her own).  Each of these archetypes is a potentiality in every woman, and the book goes into the challenges, strengths, and weaknesses of each in turn.  It’s given me a new perspective on the particulars of each goddess’ qualities and which I may chose to call on for a particular working.  It’s been a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to all.  Once I’m done with this one I’m moving on to her other book Gods in Everyman for some perspective on the guys!

Until next month, blessed be! )O(

New To The Craft

December, 2008

In the Realm of Magic

For many of us who enjoy a good Harry Potter book or the fairy tales of childhood, there is a special word that draws us to the study of Wicca: magic.  That one mysterious word conjures up a euphoria of wonder and excitement that feels alien in comparison to our daily lives.  Suddenly, anything is possible, and we become more than mere mortals bracing against the tides of fate.  These are certainly the types of emotions the idea of magic can inspire, but daily we are told to keep such notions in the realm of fiction where they belong.  There is the world of reality and the world of the imagination, through which a clear and distinct boundary is drawn.  But is this division as clear as some say?  Is there really a division at all?  These are some of the questions Wiccans open themselves to and ask, allowing for a faith which embraces what others may not even consider possible.

One way to begin to explore these questions is to establish: what do we mean by “reality?”  Many would name the physical world around us as the foundation of the real world.  This is the area accessible to our senses, and we experience it everyday in a reliable manner that gives us little reason to doubt its existence.  Not every aspect of this world can be sensed, which we know through scientific instruments that go beyond our human limitations.  This is the only way we know of ultraviolet light, microwaves, or dark matter for instance.  Even though we cannot see these things ourselves we know they are real when we observe their effects.  Before each of these things was discovered by scientists they most certainly existed, we simply did not have technology suitable to view them.  It is therefore wise to have a healthy dose of open-mindedness alongside skepticism when deciding whether magic may or may not be “real,” as today’s unknowns can always become tomorrows discoveries.

Now let us go back to the separation between reality and imagination.  We have established that reality in common thought corresponds to the material world, both seen and unseen.  Imagination is something altogether distinct.  It is the collection of our thoughts, dreams, and hopes as to what reality should or might be.  I can see a horse and imagine a unicorn.  I can see a problem and imagine its solution.  Our thoughts and mind are our primary way of creating change in the physical world by envisioning what can be instead of what is.  A thought may not be a material object in the way that a chair is, but its effects on the world around us are real and profound in the form of our actions.  This blurs the definition a bit on what constitutes reality.  Is a thought only real if I create it in the material world?  Or is it real because of its affect on my decisions and actions?  A hopeful person may in reality have nothing to look forward to based on the way events play out, but the effect the hope has on the person changes what they do and how they act regardless of the physical reality around them.  Imagination is separate from reality only in that it does not have to conform to the physical world to be real or have an effect, and this is the key to understanding what magic is.

Someone who practices magic in our world does not have lightning bolts shooting from their fingertips and may or may not wear a pointy hat.  There is a certain aspect of romanticism in modern witchcraft that plays to the fantastical and whimsical natures of many of its practitioners.  What all magic shares, regardless of the outer forms, is a disciplined focus of the mind and thoughts aimed to produce an effect.  To believe in magic is merely to believe that thoughts can affect reality, and to practice and hone the craft of doing so.  To a skeptic this may only go so far as to acknowledge that if a person focuses their thoughts with great intensity towards a goal, it would at the very least affect the actions of that person.  If my goal is to find love and I wish to use magic, all of my concentration and focus on that goal would undoubtedly affect what I do and move my actions in line with it.  Most practitioners take it a step further and say that the thoughts you put out affect the energy around you, and that true magic is when that energy is affected enough to bring about your intentions.  That is a harder gap to bridge for those new or foreign to the Craft, but as with all of its aspects Wicca values experience over belief.  It does not require you to believe in magic but rather invites you to experience it and judge for yourself.  As with hope, there is nothing to lose, and everything to gain by choosing to suspend one’s disbelief.  And that is when the boundaries to the realms of reality and imagination blur, uniting to create a truly magical whole.

Journal for the Month of November:

I cannot say that I have yet had a successful experience with a spell.  On the other hand I have had a direct experience with another form of energy work known as Reiki.  A few months back I attended a Reiki attunement for levels I and II.  During this process the student is said to be opened to the flow of universal energy in order to channel it for healing.  I went into the experience very skeptical, but with an open mind.  During one of the guided meditations I experienced a strange sensation, almost as if energy were coursing through my spine at a rapid pace.  The sensation heightened and intensified to the point where I felt as if some torrential waterfall were coursing through me unhindered.  After a time the feeling faded, and as I came back into my regular awareness I learned that our instructor had been focusing on opening our chakras during those moments before.  There was no way I had imagined the experience, and I could not explain it away in rational terms.

Why do I mention this experience here?  For me, it was pivotal in giving the concept of magic a chance.  I firmly believe in the power of the mind and that amazing things can be accomplished through its discipline, but I had a hard time accepting the idea of energy work and its implications.  Magic and Reiki are two very different things, most especially because in Reiki the practitioner never tries to control the flow the energy, and instead focuses on being a clear and open channel for it.  But I can now say that I have literally felt energy working within me, and it has opened my mind to a vast sea of possibilities I may never before have considered.  To anyone else I would say, don’t just believe in something, know it from your experience.  And at the same time you can take the knowledge from others that such things are possible, as long as we are willing to open ourselves to them.

Until next month, blessed be! )O(