Thursday, March 1, 2012

Redefining My Spiritual Practice

This post is a long time in coming.  To be frank, I’ve been hesitating about putting it in words for other people to see.  I’m going to refrain from projecting my fears about the reactions of others here, because sometimes people surprise you.

Wicca for me defines the overall structure of my religious and spiritual practice.  I was trained and initiated in a mixture of by-the-book British Traditional structure and “the traditional way wouldn’t work here so we adapt to the situation”.  My lineage (can we just say “pedigree”?) is mixed with Georgian and Majestic Wicca, but a lot of the training materials looked like straight copies from the Farrars “Witches Bible Compleat”, which is purportedly Alexandrian.  So some folks think I’m a Traditional, some folks think I’m an Eclectic.  I’ve joked about being “plaid trad” since no one really knows what to think.  I know people who have taken a more traditional route and re-trained with other groups to get “legitimate”, but I never really felt the need.

Why, you may ask?  Because my magic works.  I don’t feel “broken”, though there were times I allowed other people to make me feel like the bastard child of the Trad set.  Because I’m gay, I’ve even had one or two people in my distant past say I *couldn’t* be Wicca because I’m “outside the cycle of nature”.  You know, because I’m not making babies.  Thankfully, that argument has been put to rest.

But everything leading up to this blog post did push me to re-examine what I was taught to do, and why we do it.  I will always be thankful to the pioneers of Wicca in America – Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Alex Sanders, Ray Buckland, and bless his heart Scott Cunningham.  (His was my first book, so he gets extra attention.)   There are things about traditional wiccan teachings that I am just not comfortable with, and other things that I think are missing. 

Some examples of things to pitch:
  1. The scourge – I know, using the scourge to redirect blood flow is one of the 9 paths to power, but I just don’t like the symbolism of tying someone up and hitting them with a scourge, no matter how light the touch is.  I’m not into bondage, domination, or humiliation and I just don’t want to do it.  I will teach about the history of use, and I’m not throwing mine away, but it is officially retired.
  2. Rote invocations – memorization is fine, but I have found that with me (and students) a much stronger mystical experience takes place when we find the connection in our hearts and let the words flow to call whatever entity/spirit we’re asking to join us in circle.
  3. “Commanding” spirits – if one truly believes in magic and gods, and the primal power of the elements of nature (earth/air/fire/water), then being a pompous ass is just unwise.  Over 10 years ago I started eschewing the “summon stir and call ye up” style of invocation, because it was just flat, meaningless, and far too bossy.  At the very least, the gods and the forces of nature are (I hope!) my friends, and you treat your friends with courtesy and respect, as well as affection.  I also don’t “banish” them when I’m done with the ritual.  In keeping with the courtesy/respect approach, I thank them for showing up and tell them we’re done for the night.  I don’t kick my friends out of my house, unless I never want them to come back.
  4. Language no one understands – specifically “Eko Eko Azarak” etc.  No one seems to know what it means, though lots of folks have some suspicions about what it might mean.  I just can’t shake the feeling that folks using that particular chant (in its long form) just might be saying “I’m a silly goose and my nose looks like a banana” or something, and the gods are just laughing.  I think we have to use language we understand.  Using “Thee” and similar archaic language forms might be poetic, but it’s also not honestly how we speak these days.  90% of people who do try to use it don’t know how to use it properly anyway, so they just sound silly.
Some things I’m adding:
  1. Music – not just chanting for the sake of chanting, but chanting that is actually pertinent to what we’re doing in ritual.  And writing new songs that work in our modern times for storytelling, for teaching, and for raising power in ritual.
  2. Rhyme – I don’t care if someone thinks it sounds silly, but spells/chants that rhyme are easier to remember, and the rhythm makes it easier to keep a group focused on the same thought at the same time.  There’s something about rhyming repetitive chants that alters our state of consciousness in a way to make magic easier to work in a group setting.
  3. Shadow work – my personal definition of shadow work is to focus on the things about ourselves, our histories, and our lives that we don’t like, are afraid of, or hate – and just deal with it.  Face it, understand it, accept it.. otherwise it has power over you and can unbalance you.  I’m not a trained psychologist, but honestly I don’t think you need to be.  If you have some big huge issue that you can’t deal with via the symbolism of ritual then you DO need professional help, but for lots of things we CAN deal with them and make living our lives better.
Some things I’m thinking about:
  1. Wand, staff, athame, sword – is all that really necessary?  A lot of the symbolism in current-day Wicca has its roots in ceremonial magical practice, but does someone really need to plunk down over $100 on a knife for ritual use to wave around in the air?  We (in the community) say that the only really essential tool is the mind, that you can cast circle with your finger, so why not make the tools optional?  Or hand someone a straight stick to use as their “training wheels” tool until they decide to initiate?   I don’t know about most of you, but more than half of my tools wind up sitting around unused, and have for the past 10 years.   When blessing wine and cakes, if the chalice is supposed to represent the goddess then I do NOT like the idea of putting a knife in it, you know?  A nice waterproof wand would be preferable, it’s much less violent a symbol.  Let’s be real – knives cut things no matter what you tell yourself.
  2. Degrees – I’m a firm believer in the power of the initiatory process, for reasons I won’t go into here.  But are 3 degrees necessary?  Second degree seems to be the “weak” one of the bunch, it’s just sort of a midpoint.  Does it still have value, or is it just a milestone saying “keep going, you’re doing good”?  Does that alone give it enough value to keep it?  I’m still not sure how I feel about that one.   Heck, my teacher gave me a 4th degree without ever telling me anything about it other than the title that went with it, so I have no idea where it came from or what it’s supposed to be about.  I kind of ignore it for that reason.

There’s probably more stuff to include in this post I haven’t thought of, or am temporarily forgetting, but you get the general idea.  The old ways really do need re-examining, and we shouldn’t do things we’re personally uncomfortable doing.  I’m not saying that *everyone* needs to agree with me, or that there’s anything wrong with people keeping things I’m personally getting rid of, but I think we can all agree that we should all be thinking about our path instead of blindly and unthinkingly following rules someone set down over 60 years ago.

Brightest of Blessings and Dark Chocolate to All,


  1. I'll raise a glass to that, Alan! You're talking about the difference between a living tradition and a dead one: all living things grow, change and evolve. If our beliefs and practices don't grow as we do, then they will end up strangling our creativity and cutting off our direct link to the Divine (however we perceive it). Ultimately, the enshrined unchanging tradition turns into a religion, and we all know how that turns out...

  2. I'm a firm believer in if it isn't broke, don't fix it! I'm very eclectic in my beliefs and practices. I don't care what anyone else says I should do. I care about what works for me. If people need all that stuff great. I don't though. ;)

  3. Hear hear! I agree wholeheartedly with each point. I haven't been using an athame for ages, except when it's expected of me. I've been talking for some time now about being a Traditionless Witch, meaning pretty much as DeAnna pointed out, that the Craft is not stagnant, but living, free-flowing and growing as it must. If we get bogged down by "tradition" then we will lose the magic. Magic demands that we move forward, expand, experiment, and redefine it and ourselves constantly. We are spiritual beings honoring the Earth and the Goddess and God, and She Changes Everything She Touches. So should we.

    1. (This grabbed my unused account, but this is Kimberley - Hi Alan! :) )