About Wicca

Reverence Wonders…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here concludes a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Reverence?

Modern culture won’t teach you the meaning of reverence. The dictionary defines it as “a feeling of deep respect; awe; or veneration.” Veneration in turn points back to reverence, and modern usage of the word awful (full of awe) renders that word nearly meaningless in our invent-a-word-every-week approach to language—more accurately to the jargon we so often substitute for language. Respect retains a little meaning…yet most people think of Aretha Franklin’s feminist anthem before—unless they’re thinking of Rodney Dangerfield.

Reverence, then, is perhaps the most difficult of all these qualities to pin down. Multi-layered excavation into the word focuses my attention on two words:

  • Awe
    Originally, awe meant simply, “struck with dread or fear”; Oxford today defines it: “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or dread.”
    Wonder—a word equivalent to miracle a millennium ago, and, the emotion felt when witnessing a miracle—that is the closest I find in today’s lexicon that conveys such meaning.
  • Worthy
    Worthy comes into reverence when defined as “worthy of respect.”  Worthy, however, is a word with key meaning to British Traditional Wicca. Having merit or nobility comes closest to defining one’s worth, at least within the Wicca.

So, what is reverence?

In the context of the Charge, having reverence within you, tells me to heed, and to cherish, those interactions—conversations, meditations, observations—that elicit wonder, that are worth my time, that flutter my heart, that shake my spirit.

Reverence Without

I have experienced reverence — wonder, awe, respect — most frequently in two sorts of locales:

Nature

  • California_River_Otterwatching a wild river otter playing waterslide over the rapids in the Trinity River, from close enough that my toes were in the river on the far bank!
  • when old-growth redwoods entreated/pleaded/demanded I continue my inexpert solitary recorder serenade played on the stage of the open-air Redwood Forest Theater redwoods_forest_theater_stage.jpgamid Armstrong Redwoods in the Russian River valley — I had always wanted to try the acoustics, was there on an early March drizzly day with the place empty, and had with me a second-hand wooden tenor recorder, which I was learning to play; the trees made us continue until the recorder lost its voice owing to condensation in its throat.
  • observing the shadow bands over the eastern Oregon desert during my first total solar eclipse in February 1979…and sharing them with my partner in August 2017

Between the Worlds

  • deity contacts
    RabbitintheMoonwhen Selene showed me the marchhare-moonMarch Hare
    – when Athena chose me as Her priestess
    – when Lugh identified Himself as my protector
    – when Pan & Spider Woman made Themselves
    evident among the redwoods
    – when Salmon Woman informed me she’s a face of Brigantia, Athena, & Bride
  • discovering ungroundedness when I was brought in to the Wicca
  • experiencing the Descent of the Goddess
  • whenever one of my initiates draws down for the first time

Reverence Within

Here is where the Lady’s advice proves most challenging, when individual Witches must learn to be gentle with themselves, to cherish the wonder & awe within themselves, to acknowledge & respect their own strengths…while uncovering & addressing their own failings.

“For behold, I am the mother of all things, and my love is poured out upon the earth.”
The Charge of the Goddess, prose version, Doreen Valiente (Ameth)

 

 

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Mirth Lightens…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Mirth?

merriment_outside_rome

Harvest merriment outside the walls of Rome.

Mirth means joy or pleasure although modern dictionaries equate the word mirth with laughter & levity. The word itself is simply the noun form of the adjective merry, which means pleasant, agreeable, or sweet. Every winter in the USA people wish each other a “Merry Christmas” while across the Atlantic the British express the same sentiment as “Happy Christmas.”

A traditional time for merriment is after the annual harvest—grain, fruits, fish, nuts—has been successfully gathered and stored. Harvest Home festivities include the early October Erntedankfest in Germany including the famed Munich Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving in Canada on October‘s second Monday, and Michaelmas in Scotland at the end of September—a occasion which inherits customs from the Celtic games at Lughnasadh.

Mirth Without

“We all need joy, and we can all receive joy…by adding to the joy of others.”
—Eknath Easwaran, The End of Sorrow

“Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased…”
—Spider Robinson

CAbuckeye-flowerspikeMirth or merriment is sometimes where one finds it. The seasonal Easter marquee that fronts a local (Christian) church along a minor arterial street in my neck of the woods reiterates the annual proclamation I’ve heard & seen for 60 years…“He is risen!”—for years an in-your-face irritant of springtide, at least when combined with the annual plague of grass allergies.

EARLYARTFreyrMost recently, the image that brought mind is the priapic image of the flowering California buckeye in all its phallic glory—in its turn a reminder of the sacred sexuality of the Hornéd One. And I burst out laughing, with a whole new twist on that old irritation—one that will no longer irk as it has for decades.

Mirth Within

Clearly, having mirth within you is not the same thing as laughing all the time. Mirth is an attitude, taking joy in everyday things, being pleasant with yourself and with others. Certainly laughter may be a result of such an attitude, and supports the attitude itself. Mirth and merriment acts to counter-weight life‘s inevitable irritations and frustrations; much more significant is support of such attitude when facing crisis, tragedy, and loss.

“They that love mirth, let them heartily drink,
‘Tis the only receipt to make sorrow sink.”
—Ben Jonson, Entertainments

dog-bones

NOTHING is like a Burden Cloth!

Enjoying small things even in the midst of sorrow is an instance of keeping at least a spark mirth within. Although I grieved at the death of my mother, I took pleasure in the knowledge that she was able to live her life independently until the end; she sold her Burden Cloth totes at Eugene‘s Tuesday Market the very day before her death. As I gave instructions for her bodily disposal, I handed the funeral home one of her own Farm Size Burden Cloth™ totes to be used for her shroud…and she still wore the prior day‘s t-shirt, one she”d had silkscreened with the image at left & beneath it: “NOTHING is like a Burden Cloth!

Other aspects of her disposal also pleased me, as it would her—the funeral home had arrangements with a local MD who would remove her pacemaker (not suited for either burial or cremation), containing as it did heavy metals)…and although the MD could not do so within the USA, he workd with an organization that sterilized such used pacemakers and supplied their life-saving technology to patients in poor countries abroad. Carol ones wrote an article entitled “Where in the world is Away” on the topic of re-use and re-cycling. I could feel her approval as I signed the paperwork for that detail. Odd to feel pleasure amid the grief. Odd, but true, and supportive. Mirth—joy or pleasure or merriment or even levity—does indeed lighten the spirit.

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Humility Equalizes…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Humility?

Having humility means to be humble. And humble means “modest, lowly in manner, respectful”—the word derives from the same root as the word humus, the organic matter of soil…or, what comes out of your compost heap when it is ready to dig into your vegetable garden. Grounded, rooted, earthed—those are the words I would also choose as having similar meaning, certainly in a magical sense.

While I expound on definitions, here are a few more root meanings that follow through the maze of interrelated definitions:

  • modest—self-controlled, moderate, temperate
  • manner—method, appearance, custom, bearing
  • respect—regard, esteem, favor

“Pride separates people; humility joins them.”
—Socrates, c. 5th century BCE

This quote of Socrates’ supports something I & my high priest taught our students for the past two decades—if you boil Wicca down to a one-word core concept, it is “connection”; (K.C.’s example for Christianity was “forgiveness” or for Buddhism was “mindfulness”). Humility joins people, and that junction, that connection, so key to the love and trust intrinsic to Wiccan magic & Wiccan ritual—that connection depends on the equalizing effect of humility as much as it depends on that love and trust.

Humility Without

I choose to employ modest as the most useful synonym for humility. Moderate in manner, showing respect for others, holding one‘s own accomplishments as equal in worth to those of others—those are traits of a humble person.

…remember what peace there may be in silence…
Speak your truth quietly and clearly

Keep interested in your own career, however humble…
—Max Ehrmann, Desiderata excerpts

Humility Within

“As if true pride
Were not also humble!”
—Robert Browning

Without resorting an exposition on the necessity of self-esteem, I will simply say that the healthy spirit values its own achievements, addresses and repairs its own failures, and rejects both undeserved praise together with undeserved opprobrium. Aristotle wordily discusses, in his Nicomachean Ethics, what I will summarize as a spectrum of internal evaluation, or self-esteem: with inappropriate humility at one end and vainglory at the far end; he places earned pride as a balanced midpoint. Browning‘s simple couplet encapsulates Aristotle’s essay, yet both emphasize the value of knowing one’s own worth.

 

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About Wicca

Honor Enriches…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Honor?

Definitions feel more emphatic when a word retains its nature for more than two millennia, especially in this bleeding-edge society where yesterday’s newest invention equals tomorrow’s midden-filling. Honor/honour is defined (and has been defined since BCE Rome) “dignity or reputation.” As is my habit, I dug a little deeper, chasing definitions of the definition, and find that dignity means “worth (or worthiness), proper, fitting.” My fellow BTW initiates may take particular note of those two words: proper and worthy—both used within our core ceremonies to identify someone newly become one of the Wicca.

One’s reputation is built upon others’ experience. Everything you do and say creates your reputation; nothing you do or say is likely to improve a poor reputation except possibly a sea change in one’s words & deeds over considerable time.

  • Keep your word
    Making promises is easy; keeping them often hard. Think first, before you give a promise, even to a child (especially to a child, children remember broken promises!)
  • Pay your debts
    Whether monies owed are a formal, paper-recorded commitment or merely a nod or handshake to a friend who covers one’s lunch tab the day before payday, cold hard cash is as memorable a broken promise as there is. As an indicator of anyone’s trustworthiness, the earthy reality of gelt/wampum/dough/scratch/valuta speaks volumes, silently.
  • Be on time
    “Pagan Standard Time” is a poor attempt at humor. It is not funny. Public circles or sabbats or events that start 60 to 90 minutes after the published starting time induce low regard for aught that names itself Pagan—religions, traditions, faiths: Witch, Lodge Magic, Druid, Asatru, Voudon, Heathen, Wiccan, Troth, Thelema, etc.

Doubtless other examples will occur to my readers, but I believe those are enough to sharpen my point. In societies around the globe and across thousands of years, honor/honour is a commodity valued in actual noble metals.

  • Norse and related societies paid weregild penalty in compensation for murder & manslaughter
  • Celtic peoples recorded in brehon law how “honor price” was to be calculated and paid
  • A man’s standing, known as dignitas, was a social asset in Republican Rome
  • Today as much as yesterday, Asian societies rely on the virtual lubrication of face

Honor Without

Today, the highest honor given to ordinary people in the USA is the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The very name of this highest civilian recognition—the Medal of Honor—imparts some small sense of the respect given to recipients, and the worth of those recipients to be so honored.

Honor Without

Today, the highest honor given to ordinary people in the USA is the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The very name of this highest civilian recognition—the Medal of Honor—imparts some small sense of the respect given to recipients, and the worth of those recipients to be so honored.

mary_edwards_walkerMOH

Mary Edwards Walker, MD, sole woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor She wore it throughout her lifetime.

As the previous sentence demonstrates, it is impossible to speak or write of the concept of honor/honour without using the very words we employ to define it. Alas, such circular definitions may limit comprehension of a new concept—but the notion of honor, of worth, of respect are enacted on playgrounds every day. Our culture may value individual honor/honour above the sociodynamic face of many other cultures, yet we adopted the concept into English almost as soon as, historically, we encountered it (early 19th century, per dictionaries). Children & adults alike grasp the relationship concept of saving face or losing face—in the classroom, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and in the bedroom.

Honor Within

Quotes say so much about this topic, and so vividly, that the many voices speak louder than mine:

…honour is a possession of soul…
—de la Barca, The Mayor of Salamea

And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.
—Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

For titles do not reflect honor on men, but rather men on their titles.
—Machiavelli, Dei Discorsi

The nation’s honor is dearer than the nation’s comfort; yes, than the nation’s life itself.
—Woodrow Wilson

Beyond that, I note that one’s self-esteem translates into French as amour propre—a phrase which translates idiomatically to self-esteem, but when dissassembled into amour/love and propre/clean, appropriate, or particular to oneself. My own take on this concept reminds me of moment in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden:

Tha doesna like this one and tha doesna like that one. How does tha like thysen, then?
(Translated from the Yorkshire dialect: “Thou dost not like this one and thou dost not like that one. How dost thou like thyself, then?”)

 

 

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about the name Swangrove…

Why Swans, Anyway?

Woodhart-logo-coloredIn about 2003, as best I recall, the HP of the first coven I led, K.C., posed a challenge to the members: come up with an image to represent the coven, something suitable to use on a banner or similar group identifier.  Some discussion led nowhere, and the banner never materialized. We did have a public logo made from our public name, Woodhart, which always satisfied me.

Swangrove-imageDuring circle meditation related to that challenge, however, I emerged from trance with a vivid vision of  huge swans flying overhead, the words feathered dragon echoing in my being. My imagery rang no bells with any of the coven at that time, and I tucked the concept away in my personal magical lore.  That is the kernel of the inspiration. Began teaching again a few years on, and a few years after that…a new coven, Swangrove. But there’s a lot more to the name than the inspiration.

Feathered Dragons

Basic schooling taught me that birds were the modern descendants of the dinosaurs, and paleological discoveries of the past 50 years have added and expanded that understanding. Fossil records taught us that ancient Archeopteryx was feathered. Mythologies of aboriginal Australia, Mesoamerica, and Eurasia all feature giant serpents (or dragons): Rainbow Serpent of the Dreamtime, the Feathered Serpent best known as Quetzalcoatl, the Ouroboros of Europe, or the World Serpent of the Norse. Tribal memory or creative minds, who knows? But this gnostic phrase, feathered dragon, kept following me. So…I looked it up!

giantSwan-Sicily

Extinct giant swan defending territory from Sicilian dwarf elephant

Prehistoric giant swans existed on the Mediterranean islands of Malta & Sicily about half a million years ago, after the last Ice Age. Fossil evidence shows those swans to have been about six and a half feet from beak to tail-tip, with wingspans of 13 feet. Extinct dwarf elephants co-existed on these islands at the time (around half a million years ago), as depicted in the illustration shown here, with human:elephant silhouettes to provide visual scale that points up the enormity of these swans!

 

While isolated species located on islands or subcontinents often evolve dwarf or giant characteristics, I have an unfounded sense that these giant swans may well have been pushed southward by glaciation, having once been known across greater Europe. Given that all extant swan species live in subarctic or northern temperate habitats, I speculate that my sense has some basis in reality. Perhaps.

Swans

About the birds…

swan_nest

Nesting trumpeter swan

A great many folks have little knowledge of swans beyond the ballet Swan Lake or Disney’s animated Swan Princess. To begin with, swans are big. Beak to tail-tip, mature swans grow to five feet plus, with wingspans of double that. Trumpeter swans, the species native to northern North America from the Great Lakes to Alaska, were hunted almost to extinction by the early 20th century—a scant 70 individuals—when they were first protected by law. A previously unknown additional population was discovered in the 1950s in Alaska’s Copper River region; today the trumpeter population is estimated at less than 20,000, with three-fourths of that in Alaska.

swan_flying

Trumpeter swan in flight

Swans are the heaviest flying waterfowl; an adult trumpeter may weigh thirty pounds. Whooper swans are of similar size, living in subarctic Eurasia’s boreal forest.  The mute swan is another Eurasian species, about 10% smaller; brought into the U.S.A in the 18th century for æsthetic reasons —mute swans swim with their necks in an S-curve, while most other swan species swim with necks vertical — the mute swan has become an invasive species in North America. Tundra swans, are native to Arctic and sub-Arctic latitudes around the globe, and unlike other swan species, are migratory birds. Six U.S. states allow very limited hunting of tundra swans in late autumn in their overwinter grounds. Black swans are native to Australia and have been naturalized in New Zealand, where a related N.Z. black swan was hunted to extinction before European settlement; they are similar is size to mute swans. The black-necked swan is native to South America and the smallest of the swan species. Swans live as long as 25 years; they fledge late in their first year of life, grow white plumage (instead of grey) at about two years, when they may also pond with their mate, but do not begin nesting until aged four to seven years.

swanspeciesidentifer

Swan species show from largest to smallest size with differentiations, mostly bill variations & leg colors

swan_attacks_photog

Swan defending its territory

Swans take several years to mature fully, although they fledge late in their first year, but will pair-bond as early as two years, and usually mate for life, although nest failures may lead to “divorce” in about 5%. Male swans share nest-building, incubation, and chick feeding duties with their mates, with families of cob, pen, & cygnets remaining together most of a year.

If any of my readers have encountered geese kept as guard animals—I have—then you know; just how territorial, how protective, how fierce they can be. Swans are just as protective of their nests & mates & offspring—and swans, remember, are larger than geese:  taller, wider, stronger, heavier.

About the myths…

swanbrothers

Swan princes await their sister’s nettle shirts to become human again.

Norse valkyries are swan maidens; one of the thousand-year-old Eddas describes seeing the valkyries as women with their swan’s garb lying on the grass beside them. If this sounds familiar, that’s not surprising. Folk tales of swan youths and swan maidens permeate Arctic cultures across Eurasia—Russian, Norse, European, and more. The Wagnerian operas known as the Ring cycle draw on this Northern mythological heritage.

swan-rivermaidenWagner

1850 illustration of Wagner’s Ring cycle

Russian folktales provided the tragic outline of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet. Germanic tales describe the Six Wild Swans who were cursed from human form into swans, and whose sister-princess then worked mutely for years to make the nettle shirts to remove the curse. (Two details give this tale interesting substance: the historically accurate use of nettle as a textile fiber, and the youngest prince’s left arm that was a “wing”—a reasonable description of many arm birth defects). In Greek mythology, swans draw Aphrodite’s chariot, are sacred to Apollo, and act as mounts to both of them. Most famously, Zeus disguised himself as a swan when seducing the mortal queen Leda. The Hindu deity Brahma uses a chariot drawn by swans.

Classical & medieval depictions of swans with Aphrodite & Apollo,, and of Zeus as a swan.

Hence, Swangrove

The initiates-only name of my coven is in Gaelic. The coven into which I was first brought in had a Gaelic name honoring the sidhe—the folk also called Tuatha de Danaan. Most of the covens that hived from that parent coven have also chosen Gaelic names. The first coven I founded was Fiodh Sidhe, which lived almost a decade before choosing to disband: its name means approximately Forest of the Fey—Woodhart being an easy-to-pronounce name for Fiodh Sidhe’s outer court and to the publicly offered classes.

When I explored Gaelic names for my second coven, I came across the Scots Gaelic soma, with its meaning being “a flock of swans.” In particular, I was struck by the fact that a northern land and language had its own collective noun for a flock of swans. And I knew instantly that here was our private name, Soma Sidhe. Which only left the question of an easier name for the broader world to know us by…and some old readings boiled up from my memory about archeological and written evidence of the past two thousand years and more, that sacred groves (of trees) were ancient sites of worship…and in an instant…Swangrove.

Footnote: Swangrove is no longer open to new intake, and is no longer a teaching coven.

 

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Compassion Shares

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Compassion?

As has become my habit, I begin with the word itself. Its medieval meaning in old French is defined as sympathy or pity…from a Latin word having the same meaning, and that originates from from the Latin word roots, com “together” and pati “to suffer.” At its root, compassion is constructed from Latin roots meaning to suffer together.

When it comes to suffering, our first thought is of bodily suffering:  ill health, injury, and death.

NZ funeral procession

New Zealand spontaneous funeral procession

NOLAJazzFuneral

New Orleans jazz funeral procession—marching band & horse-drawn hearse

In our mundane lives, there are commercial sympathy cards to send after a death. Like compassion, the roots of the word sympathy mean a community of feeling, from the older Greek language rather than Latin. Wakes & funerals, memorials & “celebrations of life”—all of these human mourning rituals center around sharing the suffering, expressing the grief, supporting the most-stricken. Suffering togetherEmpathy is a term often used today to describe this sort of fellow-feeling.

Compassion Without

To paraphrase Albert Schweitzer (writing in Kulturphilosophie, 1923), “Until we extend the circle of our compassion to all living things, we will not ourselves find peace.”

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” ~ Thomas Merton 1968

Fellow-feeling is not limited to the compassion humans show other humans:

  • The very first Society for the Prevention of Cruety to Animals was founded in the UK in 1824. There are now dozens, perhaps hundreds, of SPCA organizations aroImage result for oil spill animal rescueund the globe.
  • International Bird Rescue was founded in 1971 to address the plight of oiled birds and animals fouled by oil spills at sea and along shore.
  • Notecards of sympathy for accident or illness are popularly known as get-well cards. And so commonplace are they that commercial publishers routinely stock co-worker cards, family-member cards, accident cards, illness cards, etc.
  • Guest housing at no cost is made available by hospitals for family supporting inpatients having major treatment therein. In February 2014, I stayed in such when I was my sister’s driver and “coach” for a total knee replacement hours away from my home and hers.

Hundreds, even thousands, of organizations non-profit or religious or community-based, exist to support every sort of ailment, accident, ecological mishap, and ever-diminishing wild lands and wildlife. The fact that so many exist is tribute to the generosity of human spirit.

https://i2.wp.com/www.cowichanvalleymuseum.bc.ca/archival-collection/gallery/Potlatches/1982.11.1.1.jpg

Potlatch mask dancers

It is community that makes grief in the face of death & tragedy bearable. “Crying together” as an author described it, sharing memories and faux pas, hearing tales from friends or family that bereaved others had never heard. Whether the community of death takes the form of an Irish wake, or Tlingit funeral potlatch, a New Orleans jazz funeral or the ballyhooed first responder’s death-on-duty funeral with its national attendance and miles-long procession of firefighter and LEO vehicles—it is the community, that fellow-feeling, that supports the spirits when one’s own are at their lowest ebb.

 

Compassion in the Occult

One of the first things witches use magic for is healing. They are often asked to aid non-witches, and within the many traditions of Wicca, word will spread rapidly when a serious illness or injury affects one of our own. I have personally done healing work, alone and with a full coven, for the benefit of witchy-kin with colon repair, thyroid cancer,  heart attack, and a diabetic struck ambulance-hard with influenza. In my turn, I received considerable magical support when I suffered a disabling stroke (“cardiovascular accident”) at the young age of fifty…and a week following my admittance to hospital (where I spent 5 days), I was able to attend the planned first of a series of Intro to Wicca classes long-planned. I have seen my share of intentional miracles. It is less than a year since I burned my candle on behalf of another well-known witch stroke-struck, and I’m happy to say that person was a scant two days in hospital and much faster rehab.

Image result for Robin Wood Tarot celtic cross spread

Because birth families usually control the handling of body disposition and public funeral rites, often in religious formats far removed from Wicca, Witches usually hold their own ”crossing rites” for their dear departed—circles in which a deceased coven member is mourned, remembered, waked, and sometimes offered the opportunity to share departing messages through divinatory tools or a mediumistic coven-mate. Quoted below is a short segment of the closing to such a crossing rite, penned at the outset of 2001, and used by me in both personal and public crossing rites since then.

Of body & bone, of earth & stone, of things once owned, be free!
Of blood & tears, of weary years, of ancient fears, be free!
Of passions tamed, rage unrestrained, of ancient pain, be free!
Of words unspoken, visions broken, of memory’s token, be free!

—©2001–2017, D. Snavely

Compassion Within

“…. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.  …”          Desiderata—M. Ehrmann, 1927

Mundane life is full of dark. “News” headlines are virtually written in blood. Turn on the radio during drive time and chaos from the next block to the next continent will swamp you. Our own human natures find gloom more seductive than the greatest joy, unless we choose to let it go. Memorable disasters, death anniversaries, worrisome woes, those downers make up far too much of everyday gossip. Seek out your own compassion, share it when and with whom it you feel it’s needed…and spread the rest of it like balm on your own spirit.

Be blessed!

 

 

 

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Power Moves

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Power?

First, given that the word power has acquired so many meanings over the centuries, I’ll state that there are actually two senses employed in this post, the dictionary defines:

power
1 —physical strength  or force…
2 —the capacity to direct or control

Gerald Gardner uses the first meaning—energy or force when he describes witch power.

“Witches…believe that the power resides within their bodies…; this power they believe exudes from their bodies….”
Witchcraft Today, G.B. Gardner

Gardner speaks separately of will-power when he discusses power, making it clear that the bodily energy-as-power is distinct from the mental control-as-power that witches must use to direct and control the power raised from their bodies. Small wonder Gardner employed the term will-power for the second meaning when speaking of how witches manage the first meaning.

Now, as to what is meant in the Charge? Given the pairings and contrasts within that text, I take power to mean the capacity to direct energy. After all, She has already listed strength in the initial paired qualities, “beauty and strength.” Thus, when She uses the word—in this context‚—power must mean the second meaning—control, what Gardner calls will-power.

Power Without

Power is thought, in today’s materialistic world, to be a synonym for energy. Once again resorting to the dictionary, I find an interesting distinction:

energy (n.) 1590s, “force of expression,” from Middle French énergie (16c.), from Late Latin energia, from Greek energeia “activity, action, operation,” from energos “active, working,” from en “at” (see en- (2)) + ergon “work, that which is wrought; business; action”.

Used by Aristotle with a sense of “actuality, reality, existence” (opposed to “potential”) but this was misunderstood in Late Latin and afterward as “force of expression,” as the power which calls up realistic mental pictures. Broader meaning of “power” in English is first recorded 1660s. Scientific use is from 1807.

Power-as-energy is what Gardner meant when he spoke of “witches raising energy from their bodies”—but power-as-control is how Gardner describes how a Witch High Priestess puts power-as-energy to use in working magic.

Power in the Occult

Anyone who has experimented with sensing auras—what some occultists refer to as the subtle body—will likely recall their surprise at the discovery that their hands, deprived of sight, find a sensation of presence some  inches away from skin-to-skin contact with another person. Such “aura-sensing” exercises are among some of the basic energy-sensing experiments that my coveners undergo. Tangible energies of living beings may be discovered by such simple means—human, dog, cat, tree, and even stone. Power-as-energy is what’s being sensed. Growing or moving power-as-energy is an intermediate exercise. All of which steps lead to the coven raising power from our bodies to empower our magical workings. Back to power-as-control—a common term among modern Pagans is “power-over”—and not all Pagans today know whence the term derives. It’s from Starhawk, whose The Spiral Dance was first published in 1979, the same year that Gardnerian Wiccan priestess (and NPR journalist) Margot Adler first published Drawing Down the Moon. In the very first chapter of Spiral Dance, Starhawk says, in small part:

“… There is the power we’re all familiar with — power over. But there is another kind of power — power from within. … that doesn’t depend on depriving someone else.”
The Spiral Dance, Starhawk

There it is, the Neopagan origin of the phrase “power over” or control. And there, power-from-within, is Starhawk’s term for Gardner’s power-as-energy that we sometimes simply give to the gods at a Sabbat.

Power Within

Looking once again to the dictionary for assistance, innate power—as a natural ability—produces many synonyms: ability, capability, capacity, faculty, gift, skill, talent…. Faculty strikes the truest note, to my mind. The Oxford Dictionary gives its first (earliest) meaning for faculty as “An inherent mental or physical power.”

So…coming back to the Goddess’ instructions, what does She mean when  she tells us to have power within us? She means, as I understand Her, three things—matching the threefold meanings of power.

  • Husband the energies of our bodies (power-as-energy), and put them to good use.
  • Choose wisely when employing power-as-control.
  • Employ our native faculties (power-as-capacity) to the best purposes of all.
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