Posts Tagged ‘academic’

Karma for Witches

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I heard somewhere something weird, and wanted to ask you about it. I heard that during the Burning Times, if a Witch broke her oaths to the coven then part of the punishment was that she would be reincarnated away from people she knows. She would be amongst strangers and not with other Witches. Is that true?


Young Padawan Learner

Dear Young,

This falls into the realm of coven oral teaching, which I have not been able to verify in a book, and had to ask an elder. While we historically know that the Burning Times did not happen as we thought they did, the mythology surrounding medieval covens has stuck with us and been reinterpreted for modern times.

Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Since everything else in nature goes in cycles, it makes sense that so do we. That’s why people have past-life memories sometimes. Many subscribe to the idea that our souls are here to learn lessons, and that we have decided before our incarnation what lessons we need to learn. People come into our lives because they have a lesson to teach us–especially people we don’t get along with. If you  have it in you, try thanking someone who makes you angry, hurts you, or that you find deeply unpleasant–thank them for the lesson they are teaching you.

I think we are reincarnated with people we know, especially family. In one way or another, we all must come to terms with our family and balance out the relationships as we grow and change and when there is a lot of stress. The elder I talked to calls this your “soul group”. When you meet somebody who reminds you of somebody else, or you feel like you’ve known them forever, then you’ve been with them in a past life. Additionally, if you instantly dislike someone, you’ve met with them in a past life too.

The elder I spoke to told me about the term “Warlocking” (yes, I realize it is a World of Warcraft word for newbies gone wrong). As you know, “warlock” means “oath-breaker”. She explained it as a karmic law (rather than the effect of the coven actions) of the Fates that goes into effect when one does something unspeakably horrible to get in the way of things. This includes murder, so ratting out your coven would have been something that would qualify one for Warlocking. Basically, it reincarnates them out of the way of the work that magical people are doing and puts them out of harms way. It gives them a chance to fix their mistake rather than repeating it in another life, and keeps those doing the magical work safe from their bad influence. It is a self-regulating mechanism that is not controlled by the Gods, but to which they too are a part.

Because magical people like Witches are working to become familiar with the laws of Karma and in working with energy, deity and other sacred tasks, they are held to a higher standard than non-magical folk. Remember that everything you do comes back to you, and if not this time, then it’ll catch you the next!


Pagan Literature Class Syllabus

June 15, 2010 5 comments

You know how in college you can take classes on different perspectives on literature? You know, like I took Native American lit or you could take GLBT lit or the African American Perspective? Well, what if there was a Pagan one? I wrote this as an undergraduate level class. If I ever get a doctorate in anything, maybe I’ll teach it. Until then, here it is! If you’d like to use it, please let me know.

Goal: By understanding the Neo-Pagan perspective on life and literature, one can gain additional meaning from a text that might otherwise be overlooked. Paganism is complicated, organic and diverse. It is part history, part culture, and part religion.

Week 1: Day 1-What is Paganism? Read from Drawing Down the Moon. Bit of history from Prehistoric Goddess worshippers, to Middle Ages, to Occultism, to Wicca and Neo-Paganism.

Day 2-Our stereotypes and cultural images. Clips from: The Wizard of Oz, Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, Disney’s Snow White, The Craft, Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, etc. What are the social ramifications of these images? Should one work with or against the stereotypes? Last watch Video: Lifetime Intimate Portrait: Witches. Misinformation Worksheet due beginning of class.

Day 3- examine where these stereotypes come from. Read from Maleus Malificarum, the Construction of Witchcraft. The Burning Times: All Neo-Paganism must be viewed with this in mind. What are the social ramifications of this? Where did these ideas come from? Clip: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Week 2: Day 1-The Divine Feminine. A woman’s place in Patriarchy. Read: “Charge of the Goddess”. What does it mean that God is a Woman? Seasonal cycles. Read: Wiccan myths about seasons. Symbols of the feminine.

Day 2- Read: Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld. ‘Thou Art God’ idea and its ramification. Read “Descent of the Goddess”

Day 3- Mythology and its place in Paganism. Read from: The Feminist Companion to Mythology. Group up, each choose a culture to present in class over next few weeks. Take cue from the essays: choose a myth not represented in the book and write an essay analyzing the role of women in the story and what it means to be a woman in that society. Use visuals, if possible. Tell of the major Deities in that particular culture. 3-5 pages.

Week 3: Day 1- Read and discuss: The Power of Myth. Hero Cycle and Spirit Journeys. Analyze The Matrix or other movie and “Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld”

Day 2- Archetypes according to Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Psychology in Mythology. Bolen? Divine Archetypes. Intro to Tarot.

Day 3- Discuss the use of archetypes and cycles in myths that we’ve read. Deification of heroes like King Arthur. Discuss essay and presentation requirements.

Week 4: Day 1- Group presentations. Discuss: The Power of Myth all week. What is mythology? How is it important to us?

Day 2- Group Presentations. Mythical Beasts: what they say about our fears and inner psychology. Other issues in Campbell’s book.

Day 3- Group Presentations. Modern Myths: Comic books, movies and television, huge phenomena like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc.

Week 5: Day 1- Creation Myths: what this important myth says about a culture and its sense of self. What of America? What myths does it have? Start: American Gods.

Day 2- Discuss American Gods, book origins, Neil Gaiman himself, Norse culture. Any questions about book.

Day 3- The role of sexuality, Gods recognition. Symbolic roles using Tarot.

Week 6: Day 1- More on Tarot. History of Magickal Correspondences.

Day 2- Essay Due. Symbolism, Magickal Correspondences and uses in literature. Read and analyze “For Breaking a Curse”, MacBeth Act 4 Scene 1, “The Maypole of Merry Mount” and “Scarborough Fair”

Day 3- Rituals, tools and secrecy. Read: “Initiation Ritual”. Persecution today comes in many forms. Occult knowledge. Group Presentations. Finish American Gods. Essay?

Week 7: Day 1- Magic, prayer, and asserting your Will. Thou Art God as it relates to practice. Spells as they generally are done. Compare to Occult, Satanists, and ritualists (ie: Aliester Crowley, Golden Dawn or Masons) Read from: A Triumph of the Moon.

Day 2- Wordsworth, Kipling and other Naturalists. The reaction to the loss of spirituality in life and church. A resurgence (or reinvention?) of pagan themes.

Day 3- Discussion of texts. Brief overview of Astrology and how it can be used as Literary Analysis. Get a free reading from

Week 8: Day 1- Spell casting (sympathetic, candle, charms, talismans, curses, prayer, chant, astral work), ethics (rule of 3), black vs. white magick. Moon cycles and magick. Read “Before a Flight”, “Witches Rune”, “The Wiccan Rede”, Read a curse.

Day 2- Other poems from A Pagan’s Muse. Begin Wizard of Oz.

Day 3- Coming out of the Broom Closet. Modern Neo-Pagan movement. Gerald Gardner. The “New-Age”. Read: “A Witches Manifesto”. Read from: Voices from the Pagan Census. Discuss how Pagans recognize each other (symbols in packet).

Week 9: Day 1- Literature by Pagans, for Pagans. How can academics analyze? Read: “The Golden Ring” “God Rest Ye Merry Pagan Folk” “A Pagan Prayer for the Dead”

Day 2- Finish Wizard of Oz. Discuss how it impacts mainstream thought. Map using Hero’s Journey. Examine archetypes. Magic (consciously projecting the will).

Day 3- A day for catching up. Discuss final.

Week 10: Day 1-  Analyze any other Pagan/Non-Pagan texts of interest to class. Pagan jokes and parodies.

Day 2- Instructor evaluation. Text evaluation (what would you add or drop?).

Day 3- The future of Paganism: striving for equality. How you can help.

Final: Choose a Disney Movie. Analyze its Pagan elements, its structure, the potential ramifications of the themes presented as they relate to the mainstream, its material success, the development of the story, etc. Try to include one of the academically unusual methods of analysis we covered in class. 5-7 pages.

Suggested Disney Movies: Beauty and the Beast, Brother Bear, Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, Bambi, The Black Cauldron, Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Hercules, The Lion King, etc.

Required Texts:

American Gods, Neil Gaiman. Harper Torch, 2002.

The Complete Book of Tarot, by Juliet Sharman-Burke. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996. (?)

Drawing Down the Moon, by Margaret Adler. Beacon Press, 1979.

The Feminists Companion to Mythology. Edited by Carolyne Larrington. Pandora Press, 1992.

The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft, by Hans Peter Broedel. Manchester University Press, 2004. (?)

The Pagan’s Muse, Edited by Jane Raeburn. Citadel Press, 2003.

Read: “Thine Inmost Divine Self: An introduction to Pagan Poetry”, “Charge of the Goddess” by Doreen Valiente, “The Charge of the God” by Archer, “A Song to Mithras” by Rudyard Kipling, “The Dandelion Woman” by Jessica Jordan Nudel, “The World is Too Much with Us” by William Wordsworth, etc.

A Paganism Reader, Edited by Chas S. Clifton, Graham Harvey. Routledge; 2003 (?)

The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. Double Day, 1988.

The Spiral Dance, By Starhawk. Harper, San Francisco, 1979. (?)

A Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, by Ronald Hutton. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States, by Helen A. Berger, Evan A. Leach, Leigh S. Shaffer. University of South Carolina Press, 2003. (?)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank Baum.


Confessions of a Pagan Nun, by Kate Horsley, Shambhala, 2004.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Harper Collins, 2001.

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theordore Roszak. Random House, 1995.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Del Ray, 1982.

Seasons of Magic, by Laurel Ann Reinhardt. Llewellyn, 2001.

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein. Ace Charter, 1995.

Waking the Moon, by Elizabeth Hand. Eos Printing, 1996.

Witches Were for Hanging, by Patricia Crowther. Mercury Publishing, 1998.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Penguin Books, 2003.

[NBA Project] Results

Result of the Needs Based Assessment

This questionnaire has taken on a life of its own. People posted the link on other lists and used Facebook and other social websites. I have received over a dozen responses from clergy, mental health practitioners and Pagan practitioners. Based on the excitement, I had expected more responses. Some commented that the length and openness of the assessment may have put some people off.

Because the survey was written as a qualitative assessment, and I don’t have enough to give a true sample size, these written results will necessarily be qualitative in content.

Of the survey’s I received, almost half were from California alone, particularly the Burkely area. This is most likely because it got on a local list there, and the Pagan community is very politically active and well-educated. About four survey takers were from the Midwest, one from the South, and only one from my home area of the Pacific Northwest. Of all the lists I sent the survey out to, I only received a response from one person I actually know in real life.

The main concerns listed by survey-takers are job and money related. As predicted, most of our community is affected by the economic depression like the rest of the nation. In particular, our community is stressed about affordable healthcare, getting enough food to eat, and the burden of student loans. For some, these concerns are compounded by their religious affiliation—more than one survey indicated that they could not use the local food bank because they had been harassed by the mainstream religious group running the program. Although no one knew of specifically Pagan programs that could help with this problem, most folks had no hesitation about using government programs like unemployment, food stamps, and Free clinics.

The next most often listed item was a desire for Pagan related services for problems such as alcoholism, birth and death, and dying rites, and general psychological and emotional support. While no one knew of any specifically Pagan programs for this class of issues (unless they are directly involved in one), they did indicate that Pagan clergy might take some responsibility for this, or at least disseminating information on local resources. Yet no one was comfortable going to a mainstream program unless they knew it was Pagan friendly. Many in our community volunteer these kinds of services, but find their resources stressed.

Pagan clergy seem to, in general (that is, in all but one survey), be greatly desired in the community. There is a distrust that clergy are not adequately trained, and that they shouldn’t get involved in things they have not had experience and training for. The survey takers expressed desire to move towards more formalized organizations like churches and 501 c. 3 non-profits. Several surveys indicated an exasperation at the perceived “reinvention of the wheel”—that is, organizations come and go, and maybe if they banded together, they could get more accomplished.

Mental health practitioners and Pagan practitioners both agree that there needs to be more “out” counselors and opportunities for Pagans to receive mental health. Because Pagans have a unique woldview and religious orientation that differs greatly from mainstream ideas of mental health, they are often labeled as pathogenic under a disease model. Pagans will resist complete openness with a counselor if they are not sure that their worldview–which includes magical thinking, fantasy, play, sexual exploration, ecstasy, alternative lifestyles, and mind altering religious experiences perceived as very real–would not be accepted or understood as a positive aspect of a client’s life. Besides having “out” counselors who are accepting, Pagans also need emotional support through hard times, which they believe they can get from well-trained clergy and counselors.

Several people focused on big ideas such as environmentalism, capitalistic greed and large corporations taking over. They suggested that solving these social problems will alleviate a lot of the depression and hopelessness that our community feels, yet they also could suggest no solutions or ways of addressing this problem.

Perhaps the most surprising result found in the survey, is the overwhelming desire to help themselves and help each other. They seem to loathe the separateness we have, yet want to maintain their autonomy and independence. Yet when it comes to social services, they feel a real need for them, but few know how to begin, what is already out there, and how to best serve the community. All but one survey taker said they would help by donating time or money to a Pagan cause, and the vast majority of those who took the survey are already helping the community in some way. In general, even while people identified problems, they were optimistic about the future, and were keen to take personal responsibility for their local community and their own problems.

Plan of Action based on the Needs Based Assessment

I have received a few offers of help from folks who wanted to do more than just fill out the survey. One is offering to publish the results of this project if I can make it sound academic enough. Another is brainstorming with me some things we can do to connect people and Pagan-friendly helping programs. We think a website specifically for this focus, or a section of a website that a lot of Pagans already use, would be most beneficial. It seems clear that we need to connect and get out useful information on more mundane topics, not just magical topics.

While I recognize that I cannot personally address all the needs identified in this survey, I am doing my best, and plan to focus my career in service to this community. When I get my license, I will be an “out” mental health practitioner, and work to do academic study and writing about our community for others who may be working with them. I am also writing a book for Pagan clergy on service to the community, and will use these survey results as information to help clergy focus their service and get training without “reinventing the wheel”.

It was my intention to get people who filled out the survey to think about what they could do to help each other. I would not be surprised if programs and organizations started popping up locally. One on the survey said she will re-open a local food bank, with the help of the ACLU to avoid religious persecution. My sincerest hope is that people will be inspired to bring their thoughts into action, and respond to their community without trying to control or judge it. Even getting people back into the mainstream programs as volunteers would be a step in the right direction.

What is Wicca II: Praxis in the Body

February 11, 2010 6 comments

I realize I wrote on this topic already, about how all Wiccans are Pagans but not all Pagans are Wiccans. This whole “What is Wicca” question has been really gnawing at me lately. I occasionally get letters from people who find me on Witchvox or through Witchful Thinking and want to know about Wicca. I’m working with a gentleman right now who is writing a book about how we come to our spirituality, and is devoting a whole chapter to Wicca. I realized that, as I’d been practicing for awhile now, I couldn’t adequately explain which part of my activities were Wiccan and which were simply Pagan. A lot of practitioners who are Wiccan use the words interchangeably, while Pagans of other denominations get offended if you call their activities Wiccan.

I just finished the book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual by Nikki Bado-Fralick. She’s a professor of Religious Studies, and examines her own initiation into a decidedly Wiccan coven as a scholar and a practitioner. The first part of her book is an academic criticism about the way that religious scholars examine religion. She argues that the kind of objectivity they have doesn’t really allow them to understand the people they are studying, and is ethnocentric to say the least. It’s an interesting topic if you are in the field of religion, or want to know what’s going on there, but the real meat was in the later chapters.

In one section she says:

The immediate (but controlled) exposure to the sensual, tactile dimension of Wiccan religious experiences begins to counteract the idea that religion is only–or even primarily–about belief systems, sets of abstract concepts, or texts. It marks the beginning of a kind of paradigm shift, moving the student into a frame within which practice (i.e., practice that centrally includes the physical body as the doer of the learning) emerges as equally important to belief or intellectual knowledge. In this respect, learning how to drive a car has one immediate and useful advantage over learning how to be a Witch. Driving a car is easily identified as a practice that engages both body and mind. Generally speaking, you don’t believe in cars, you drive them. Thus is counterintuitive to an understanding of religions in which belief is primary and practices are secondary, if noticed at all….The idea that religion might be rooted in somatic experiences, that it might be about practices, about things done with the body as well as the mind, is often a difficult and apparently troubleing concept for my students. For most of them, religion clearly functions as an identifying label rather than as a doing. (78-79)

So what Bado-Fralick is saying is that Wicca isn’t a label or an idea, but a collection of practices and things you do with the body. If that’s the case, then I should amend my previous statement in this post a few months ago. Perhaps Wicca is not believing in a Goddess and God, but in doing ritual for a Goddess and God. They say that Wiccans don’t believe in the Gods because they’ve experienced them (It’s like saying you don’t believe in cars, or you don’t believe in table.). It’s not believing in the Wiccan Rede, but in acting on it.

This is a huge paradigm shift. Most of our culture is based on monotheistic and reductionist ideas (looking for the one best, making the most money, go to a general practitioner etc). Your school system, for example, has decided that the one best way for students to learn is audio/visual. The idea is that if you hear and see something, you’ll remember it. So perhaps the teacher will show you on the board how to do a math problem, and talk about how to do it, and then the student is supposed to remember from there on out. Yet studies show that about 75% of us are kinesthetic learners. That is, we learn through the body. As a tentative and ill-supported connection, I think that the reason the school/authority chose audio/visual styles as their basis of teaching is because the education system comes out of Christian theology, which has historically been uncomfortable with the human body.

Descartes said "I think, therefore I am" because he couldn't trust his sensual experiences in his own body, couldn't tell if he was asleep or awake, and we've been split from our bodies ever since.

I think the reason Paganism and Wicca in particular are among the fastest growing world religions is because they are comfortable with the body, indeed revel in it. The body learns by doing, just ask a dancer or an athlete to tell you about muscle memory. Like our ancestors before the mind/body split of Descartes, instead of asking “what should we believe?” we ask “what should we do?”. Spellwork and ritual are an answer to that question that don’t necessarily require an answer to the first question. That’s why we can get together to do ritual, but we don’t have to understand the Gods in the same way. And if you find you don’t believe as the ritualists do, you simply don’t do the ritual. Just like how I don’t believe in the philosophies of the Pledge of Allegiance, so I don’t stand or put my hand over my heart–that is, I don’t participate in the ritual.

In my own tradition, there are ritual acts done with the body that didn’t make sense to me when I read them, yet when I saw them performed and participated, they became full of meaning. Suddenly there was context, inflection and energy behind the actions. But I couldn’t explain to you what those actions actually mean–it takes so much verbiage that it sort of ruins the affect. Better to just perform the action in the right context and have another gather their own meaning and belief from it. That’s part of the Mystery.

If praxis is the difference between Wicca and other religions, then what’s the difference between Wicca and Paganism? Is that where differing beliefs lie? Pagans do believe certain things, but their practices vary wildly to reflect the different nuances of ideas. As a point of unification, if we can understand the practices we share, maybe we can find some more ways to get along, rather than argue about what is some label and what isn’t.

What do you think?

Changes in “The Charge”: New Perspectives on Time and Space for Neo-Pagans

January 25, 2010 5 comments

“Time and Space are Real Beings

Time is a Man     Space is a Woman

William Blake “A Vision from the Last Judgment”

Ninian Smart says that the study of Religion “is a six dimensional organism, typically containing doctrines, myths, ethical teachings, rituals, and social institutions, and animated by religious experiences of various kinds.” While this famous professor promotes a secular comparison of various religions, he also realizes that “each religion must also be seen essentially in its own terms, from within, as it were” (Smart). In order to look within Neo-Paganism and Wicca, we must look to these dimensions to understand its religiosity. The rituals and liturgy can give us insight into the doctrines of this modern religion that flies outside of Western Christian convention yet stays well within (and in some ways predates) the study of quantum mechanics and science.

Wicca, also known as “The Craft” and “The Old Religion”, is actually a newer religious movement and prides itself on having no central organization, and because of this has very little shared liturgy. However, the “Charge of the Goddess” is considered to be divinely inspired. Like the gospels of The Bible, its origins are shrouded in mystery, and there are nearly as many variations as there are publications. “The Charge”, as it is referred to, has its own unique history and experience which falls outside of traditional concepts of space and time. This short prose piece transmutes into other recognizable forms of literature, including ritual and liturgy, depending upon the reader and their intentions.

“The Charge of the Goddess” has a fairly specific place in a ritual. Leibnitz says that nothing exists in a vacuum, and this piece is no exception. It is a part of a traditional Esbat or Full Moon ritual first published in Janet and Stewart Farrar’s book Eight Sabbats for Witches, which has become a standard book to base ritual practice upon, especially Wiccan groups, because of the Farrar’s access to Gerald Gardner’s[i] own Book of Shadows. After creating sacred space, the High Priest helps the High Priestess to Draw Down the Moon, that is, to invoke the Goddess within the High Priestess. If all goes right, a shift in consciousness occurs, and the Priestess feels herself fill with divine energy and she allows the Goddess to speak through her, and what she says is “The Charge”. It begins with an invitation by the High Priest, usually, to “Listen to the words of the Great Mother” and reminds the listeners that the Goddess is known by “many other names[ii]”. The High Priestess is understood to become the Goddess, much as Catholics understand that consecrated wine becomes the blood of Christ.

At this point, “The Charge” ceases to become words on a page, but is a direct quotation of the Goddess manifest in her High Priestess. Sometimes the words come out differently, or with different emphasis, or are shortened or lengthened—all entirely depending upon the individual recitation or manifestation. Schrödinger reminds us, at this point, that much depends upon the observer: the personal experience of the listener depends very much on what they think they will get out of hearing “The Charge” spoken by an invoking Priestess. Whether it is moving or believable or not is entirely dependent upon the expectation of the listener. But having heard the words spoken, they cannot help but impact you some how, and you them. One author suggests “that the term observer fails to convey the new view of the relationship between reality and consciousness. [A Princeton physicist] offers participator as a more accurate replacement” (Broughton 356). In Wiccan philosophy, you only get out of a ritual what you put in, even if you have no pre-meditated part in the ritual: it is considered that your very presence and your personal, internal experience with the ritual is an expected contribution.

In an article by Ceisiwr Serith–a Pagan for over twenty years and a member of Arn Draiocht Fein, the nation’s largest Druid fellowship–he says “The Charge of the Goddess is the closest thing to scripture that Wicca possesses. Like scripture, it is used in rituals and to support beliefs. And like scripture, its origins are obscure” (Serith). Many publications do not even acknowledge the author. Doreen Valiente, a gifted poet and a student of Gerald Gardner, is generally accepted as the writer of this piece, and when she died in 1999, the copyright went to John Belham-Payne, who runs The Centre for Pagan Studies and was her working High Priest (Raeburn 194). But even armed with this knowledge, it still does not tell us much about this mysterious prose piece. Firstly, Valiente is rewriting it from Gardner’s Book of Shadows, making it much more eloquent. Secondly, “[one] thing that should be noticed is how little of this version cannot be traced to published sources. Except for the introduction, this version is essentially quotations linked with a small number of connecting phrases” (Serith). As you can see in Figure 1, the largest percentage of the word-count does belong to Valiente, and both she and Gardner pull lines from other “traditional” texts, which originate at different points in time, making it difficult to identify the “original” piece in time and space.

The author herself changes the content and form over time; especially after first writing an extremely unpopular poem that is awkward and clumsy in a ritual context. Then a prose piece was drafted and later changed to sound more archaic by adding “thou’s” and “ye’s”[iii]. And occasionally, when “The Charge” is reprinted, a writer might recall it from memory, having heard it at a ritual, or may change wording with which they disagree: “sorceries”, for example, is changed to “magic”, or Feminist undertones[iv] are added by reducing the role of the men.  The speaker of the poem even changes, as it begins with the High Priest who also speaks again at the middle. He reminds us that the Goddess is known by “Artemis, Astarte, Athena” and “by many other names” thus incorporating many individual voices simultaneously and speaking with all of them at once. One can see the influence of the various Goddesses in the speech to create a whole pan-theistic piece. But even this can change. In the Farrar’s account of the Esbat[v] ritual, they advise that, “If you have a local Goddess-name, by all means add it to the list. While we lived in county Wexford, we used to add Carman, a Wexford goddess…who gave the county and town their Gaelic name” (Farrar 42). This dislocates “The Charge of the Goddess” from space, giving permission to make one’s local area and its deities as important as those of the great civilizations of the past. Philosophically speaking, all Goddesses are one Goddess, or at least have the same level of importance, and whether their specialty is self-hood, fertility or wisdom, the Goddesses ultimately have the same message for humankind.

One can read “The Charge” as a revelatory text, much as one reads other sacred texts like the Quaran, the Bible, or the Bhagavad-Gita. That is, the text contains words directly from Deity which reveals their existence to humankind and explains what is expected and for what purpose. Graham Harvey, a Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at King Alfred’s College examined the purpose of “The Charge”:

Two primary things are taught by the speaking, hearing and experiencing of the Charge. The first is that deity is experienced in the ordinary things of life—a woman speaking, the Earth and moon, food, drink, dancing, the human body, humour and music. While there is wisdom to be gained (this is how “sorcery” [or magic] in the Charge appears to be understood) and learning to be done, the Goddess does not require “faith”, “belief” or assent to doctrinal “truth”.

Harvey, 37

This is analogous to the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 in which God reveals to Moses the new covenant with mankind, outlining what God had done for the Israelites by removing them from Egyptian slavery, and what they must do to keep his favor. Unlike the Wiccan Goddess, this God requires faith and obedience because, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Holy Bible: New International Version. Deuteronomy 5:9-10).

God reveals himself in a burning bush, through Angels, the prophet Mohammed, Jesus Christ, and by many other means. But Wiccans and Neo-Pagans have different experiences with deity: “in the Craft there are two main ways in which people relate to and envisage deity. The first is in the way they hear the words of various “Charges”, especially the “Charge of the Goddess”, a form of self-revelation by the deity manifest in a Priestess or female leader….Secondly, deity is manifest (expressed, revealed, experienced, touched, tasted, incarnate, sensed, represented, immanent) in Nature” (Harvey 36). Students of the Romantic Movement, Transcendentalism, and counter-culturalists the 1960’s will be familiar with these ideas, and Paganism has its roots in all of these cultural mores.

The concept that this physical world is divine is completely opposed to traditional Christian thinking and also Platonic ideas about the nature of the world. In long-established Platonic thinking, there is a hierarchy of existence: all things exist as perfection in the realm of unchanging Forms. For example, in the realm of Forms is the perfect Chair. It embodies everything that is Chair-ness. When a carpenter makes a chair, he makes a copy of that Chair which only has some of the qualities of perfect Chair-ness. If an artist paints a chair, his painting is a copy of a copy, thus lessening its perfection (Soccio 147).  “The Charge” says that “From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return; and before my face, beloved of gods and men, thine innermost divine self shall be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite.” Our “innermost” parts (such as our true selves or souls) are holy, but so are our actions as, “all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.” This includes our sexuality.

Platonic ideals have been expounded in Christianity in complete opposition to the Pagan philosophies in “The Charge”. In Christian theology, God is perfection (the realm of Forms, if you will) and is everything that is unknowable and good. He came down to Earth as Jesus of Nazareth. Thus we can see that the image of God is Man, proving what it says in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over…all the earth.” So humans understand what God looks like. A woman looks dissimilar to man and is a flawed copy of man—“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man in Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. …Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God” (NIV. 1Cor 3-7). For this reason, women of Abrahamic religions have traditionally been asked, or required, to wear a veil or hold a modest appearance. Yet it is man and woman together who have dominion over the animals. There is none of this Pauline hierarchy in Neo-Pagan thought. If our “innermost divine self” is intimately a part of the “rapture of the infinite” (which must surely include time and space), then there can be nothing above or below or separate about this life and existence. Men and Women are equal in importance, and women are not required to be modest or wear a veil. This is further supported in “The Charge” in that “you shall be naked in your rites”.

Moreover, the current notions of time and space of Christians in particular have been mused over by philosophers and great minds and recorded in detail. Augustine, who is completely immersed in Christian and Platonic ideology, came to the conclusion that “There was no time, therefore, when thou [God] hadst not made anything, because thou hadst made time itself. And there are no times that are coeternal with thee, because though dost abide forever; but if times should abide, they would not be times” (Congdon 97). In other words, God made time, but is outside of it because he created it. If he were in time, he would not be God because that would mean that he was created by something else. Augustine is also agreeing with the Greek philosopher Parmenides, who came to the conclusion that “only One thing can possibly exist and that this One Thing is uncreated, unchangeable, indestructible, and immovable[vi]” (23). His realization works well for Plato’s argument. For Augustine, platonic ideas and Christianity are very compatible and his writing has influenced priests, popes and intellectuals ever since.

While it is unclear if Doreen Valiente was familiar with Augustinian ideas of time and space, it is certain that she had her own ideas about the world. She recalls her enchanted childhood that stayed with her long after others grew out of it: “I saw what people would call the world of everyday reality as unreal, and saw behind it something that was real and very potent.  I saw the world of force behind the world of form” (Knowles). One can only guess at her familiarity with the concept of Platonic forms, though she certainly was well read, and spent her childhood with very religious parents, who sent her to Catholic school when she was fifteen (Knowles). It is possible that she learned (though ultimately rejected) the doctrines of Christianity with their historical contexts and implications during that time. What is clear is that the physics of “The Charge of the Goddess” are strikingly like our modern notions of physics, and rather un-like the pragmatic understanding of old-world empiricists.

If we were to compare the two religions–Christianity and Wicca–to science, then Christianity and its scripture seems to epitomize Newtonian time, while the liturgy and philosophies of Wicca are much closer to the newer notions of Einsteinian time and quantum mechanics. That Christianity and Newton are related is no surprise, for the development of empiricism occurred when Christianity was the only acceptable philosophical doctrine in the West. Isaac Newton came to the same conclusion that Plato did: “Absolute space, in its own nature, without relation to anything external, remains always similar and immovable” (Congdon 122). He also agrees with Augustine, although, like a good scientist, Newton takes out any notions of God, “Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external[vii]” (122). For Newton, time and space exist as surely as Plato’s Forms exist, and all things in life can be measured by and of them. Although time and space exist independently of human beings, they can be understood to work like a machine, in a linear fashion and continuously pressing forward.

This linear movement of time is demonstrated in Christianity with the beliefs surrounding death[viii]. Human beings, created by God, ate of the Tree of Knowledge, and God cursed them saying “By the sweat of your brow/you will eat your food/until you return to the ground, /since from it you were taken; /for dust you are/and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19). Upon death, you are judged according to your actions in life. If you’ve accepted Jesus as your savior, you are forgiven of your sins and may enter heaven to be among the Saints and God for all eternity. There is a beginning (creation) but no end. You can view time as an arrow which goes ever forward. It’s industrial, progressive, and does not take time to reflect or consider its actions. If an opportunity passes, it is too late to go back. Similarly, a human has only this one life to be judged upon when they die, and so the short while on earth dictates the rest of eternity. It makes missionaries zealous for converts as they go out to save others from a horrid eternity without God. God himself is actually outside overseeing the entire arrow of time (according to Augustine). The arrow is predestined. This is seen in the holy scriptures of Christianity. Throughout the Old Testament, prophecies are made about the Messiah which all seem to come true in the New Testament: John 19:24 is a prophecy of Psalm 22:18 which reads “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” In the book of John, guards strip Jesus of his clothing and attempt to decide who will get what piece by basically drawing straws.

Empirical science is built linearly as well: you begin with the Scientific Method (thank Sir Francis Bacon and co.), create and test hypothesis, and publish your findings, which contribute to the bank of knowledge. Science progresses forwards. It also predicts itself by forming and understanding laws of nature and the universe and in some way shares the omniscience that God holds. Scientists or natural philosophers do not concern themselves with topics that are considered religious or superstitious, as those things are of the past. Similarly, the ideas of specific scientists come and then pass on into history: this explains why nobody studies Albertus Magnus anymore.

The physics of Wicca, however, do not have an “arrow of time” conception. In “The Charge of the Goddess”, the invoked priestess says “from me all things proceed, and unto me all things must return”. It is this circular notion that is the basis of Neo-Pagan thought. One expert notes “Pagans do not sit in neat rows facing an altar or pulpit in their ceremonies or gatherings. They form circles which speak eloquently about the way Pagans understand themselves” (Harvey 43). Rather than time marching forward unchangeably, time repeats itself, but it also progresses[ix]. The basis of time is the Wheel of the Year, which follows the physical cycles of the season and marks the solar calendar, but it is also ritually symbolic of the life of a human being that is reflected in the stories of the Goddess and God.

Each year, at the Winter Solstice, the Goddess gives birth to the God, who is the driving force behind the growing world. He is represented by the sun. At Summer Solstice, the God sacrifices himself and loses power until he is reborn the following Winter Solstice. There are other stories and lore surrounding the festivals, depending upon the tradition. A majority of Pagans, over 75%, believe in reincarnation[x], compared to only 25% of the rest of the American public (Berger 47). Wiccans believe there is a period of rest after death, but that ultimately you are reborn to live another life, learn lessons, and receive the consequences of your actions as Karma. In “The Charge”, the Goddess says, “mine is the cup of the wine of life, and the Cauldron of Cerridwen, which is the Holy Grail of immortality[xi]…” The Goddess is both the paradoxical granter of death and sustainer of life, but she also inundates the world and all its inhabitants with her presence.

Indeed, in “The Charge” everything exists equally and in connection to everything, including the Goddess, who is embodied within the priestess saying the words, within the words themselves, and within the world around us. Yet, “The Charge” also says that She, in her guise as the Star Goddess, is so large that the “dust of Whose feet are the hosts of heaven, whose body encircles the universe.” The tiniest particles of dust make up the cosmos and stars, which is remarkably similar to the Big Bang theory of the formation of the universe. But “The Charge” also implies that the cosmos must be limited; else there would be nothing for her body to encircle. Or perhaps it is a paradox, implying that the Goddess is infinite and encircles the universe by being immanent within the universe. Figuring this out is part of the mystery, which must be examined individually, and so varies from practitioner to practitioner. Doreen reminds Wiccans that,

The initiates of the ancient pagan Mysteries were taught to say ‘I am the child of earth and Starry Heaven and there is no part of me that is not of the Gods’.  If we in our own day believe this, then we will not only see it as true of ourselves, but of other people also.…because it seemed to me, and still does, that as witches, pagans or whatever we choose to call ourselves, the things which unite us are more important than the things which divide us.


Quantum physics also shows that the world, or at least subatomic particles, are connected by unseen forces, and split particles light-years away are still impacted by what happens to their twin[xii] (Broughton 334). Not only that, but the atoms can be affected by the human mind (335). All things exist as possibility before they exist as a reality chosen, or at least affected, by the observer. This is very similar to the way the world is understood to be connected as revealed in “The Charge”. Quantum physics is a complicated subject which is much too smart for most of us, but many Pagans understand it another way: magick[xiii]. Magick is the act of changing reality or consciousness according to Will (Harvey 48). It is with this knowledge of magick that they seek to influence and change events in an undetermined future, a future based upon our human will, not the will of an omnipresent, but separate, God.

But Wicca has other roots[xiv]. Science is organized knowledge, but the occult is that which is hidden or known to only a few (Bonewits 261). The study of the occult has existed alongside, yet outside, of the scientific community for almost as long as science has been organized. But Isaac Bonewits, America’s first academically accredited magician, reminds us that:

this definition of ‘occultism’ is just a bit too broad. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is said to be understood completely by less than twenty people in the world, but most people would not consider it a part of occultism. Bits and pieces from a hundred disciplines and areas of study float around within the realm of occultism. Occasionally some of them interlock into patterns that we call magic, mysticism, philosophy, religion, metaphysics, mythology, phenomenology, and a dozen other things (including superstition, fraud, and ignorance).

Bonewits 24

Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans today still practice magick that is rooted in this occult lore, but scientists have begun to study it more carefully in the last hundred years, creating the field of parapsychology. Although extremely controversial and apologetic, the fields are once again merging, and scientists are catching up with the occult knowledge practiced by Neo-Pagans, especially in the realm of quantum physics.

Although magick is a highly stigmatized part of Neo-Pagan practices, it is a part of the religiosity and expression for many Pagans, and the application contributes to a Pagan understanding of the physical world. For those working in a post-Platonic, Christian world, it is hard to recognize something beyond the realm of Western science as valid. Magick is:

A general term for arts, sciences, philosophies and technologies concerned with (a) understanding and using altered states of consciousness within which it is possible to have access to and control over one’s physical talents, and (b) the uses and abuses of those psychic talents to change interior and/or exterior realities.

Bonewits 211

These practices include (but are not limited to) spells, charms and talismans to make someone love you, to make money, to cause someone harm, or any other focused purpose. In the linear, Newtonian science in which everything is concretely understood; magick flies in the face of rational logic. But in the relative world of Einsteinian science and quantum physics, what one does, magickal or otherwise, has a valid effect on the world and the individual. Magick has its own rules and laws, some very similar to science. These laws are more philosophical, requiring personal development on the part of the magician in addition to his belief in the magick he is performing. There are many laws, but some of them include: The Law of Knowledge which states that knowledge is power, The Law of Similarity states that things that look alike are alike, and The Law of Synthesis which states that the union of opposite ideas or data will produce some new data. (Bonewits 3-9). Like science, magickal knowledge builds up as contributions are made by magicians. Many of these laws date back hundreds, even thousands of years: it was Aristotle who said “know thyself”, and anthropologists have recently “discovered” that cave paintings and ritual tools found in pre-agricultural settlements adhere to The Law of Similarity[xv]. Quantum physics can now prove that the law “Know Thyself” has a direct and noticeable effect on subatomic particles. Magick uses and operates under the laws of quantum physics:

It should be noted that there are three main questions that have to be dealt with when one is attempting to define magic. The first is that of what the magician thinks she or he is doing when performing a magical act. The second is that of what the magician may “actually” be doing in some hypothetical “objective” reality. The third is that of what outside observers, qualified or unqualified (and always biased) may perceive or theorize the magician to be doing.

Bonewits 211

The observer of a spell cannot know what the magician is doing, unless they are well versed in occult symbolism, or have spoken to the magician. The magician might change his actions if an observer is watching, which might change the spell in a Newtonian “objective” reality. If the spell does not work, the magician might think he did the spell incorrectly, or didn’t desire the outcome enough, or believe that the presence of the observer changed the result of his magick. The observer might think the magician superstitious and foolish. Which reality is correct? Quantum physics says that the reality of a particle does not exist, except as possibility, until the observer observes it—the observer does indeed become a participator as their expectations, cultural mores and assumptions color their observation and thus their participation. Ultimately, “It seems that parapsychologists and physicists, traveling down two different roads, have arrived at the same place” (Broughton 357).

One of the best examples of the reality of our thoughts on the world came with the recently publicized findings of water researcher Masaru Emoto. What started out as an attempt to photograph water crystals turned into an exciting phenomenon which both shows magick in action, and the reality of quantum physics, in a way that the general public can understand and resonate with. He and his team of researchers found that water that was polluted or was exposed to negative words (in any language) would not produce neat water crystals when frozen. But water shown positive words such as “thank you” or “happiness” would form beautiful, balanced crystals. He notes that “if water collects information and its crystals reflect those characteristics, it means that the quality of water changes based on the information it receives. In other words, the information we give to water changes its quality” (12). More testing must be done by other scientists to verify his findings. Magicians, Wiccans and Neo-Pagans, on the other hand, already understand and believe what he’s talking about, as it both resonates with Magickal Laws and the fulfillment from “The Charge” when the Goddess says, “you who are fain to learn all magic but have not yet won its deepest secrets: to these I will teach things that are yet unknown.”

When Doreen Valiente recalled writing “The Charge of the Goddess”, she declared that “just for a moment I had experienced what was beyond the physical.  It was beautiful, wonderful, it wasn’t frightening.  That, I think, shaped my life a lot”. But whether you see her experience as the result of her own expectations and a cultural tradition more closely related to the new Einsteinian science and quantum physics, or you view it as a direct result of an omnipotent deity in a Newtonian, logical, mechanical world—says more about your own cultural mores and expectations than about the validity of “The Charge”. Either way, you prove quantum physics right. It will be interesting to see how science and parapsychology begin to merge under the new quantum physics. It makes us wonder about our own worldview, with its intimate relation to religion and liturgy, and how it changes as the understanding of science and the universe changes.

Charge of the Goddess

from Blacksun’s Esbat ritual, adapted from Doreen Valiente.

Listen to the words of the Great Mother, She who of old was called among men Artemis, Astarte, Athena, Diana, Melusine, Keridwen, Danu, Arianrhod, Isis, Brighid, and many other names.

Whenever you have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, then shall you assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me, who am Queen of all. There shall you assemble, you who are fain to learn all magic but have not yet won its deepest secrets: to these I will teach things that are yet unknown.  You shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that you be truly free, you shall be naked in your rites; and you shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in My praise. For Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and Mine also is joy on earth; for My law is love unto all things.

Keep pure your highest ideal.  Strive ever towards it; let naught stop you or turn you aside.  For Mine is the secret door which opens upon the Land of Youth, and Mine is the cup of the wine of life, the Cauldron of Keridwen, which is the Holy Grail of Immortality.

I am the gracious Goddess who gives the gift of joy unto the hearts of all.  Upon earth, I give knowledge of the spirit eternal; and after death I give peace and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before.  Nor do I demand sacrifice.  For behold, I am the Mother of all living, and My love is poured out upon the earth.

Hear now the words of the Star Goddess, the dust of Whose feet are the hosts of heaven, whose body encircles the universe:

I who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon amongst the stars, the mysteries of the waters, and the desire in the hearts of all, I call upon your souls to arise and come unto Me; for I am the soul of Nature that gives life to the universe.  From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return; and before My face, beloved of gods and men, thine innermost divine self shall be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite.  Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.  Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

And you who seek to know Me, know that your seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.  For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.


Berger, Helen, Evan A. Leach, Leigh S. Shaffer. Voices From the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. University of South Carolina Press. 2003.

Blacksun & Shadowhawk. The Spell of Making and Be ALL! The Book of Pagan Spirituality. ATC e-book special edition.

Bonewits, Philip Emmons Isaac. Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic (Revised Edition). Weiser Books. 1971

Broughton, Richard S. Parapsychology: The Controversial Science. Ballantine Books, New York. 1991.

Congdon, Howard K. ed. Philosophies of Space and Time. University Press of America. 2003.  Quoting Augustine. Confessions and Enchiridion. “What Then is Time?”

Emoto, Masaru. The True Power of Water. Atria Books. Beyond Words Publishing. 2003. Noriko Hosoyamada, trans.

Farrar, Janet and Stewart. A Witches’ Bible: The Complete Witches’ Handbook. Phoenix Publishing. 1981.

Holy Bible: New International Version. International Bible Society. 1973.

Harvey, Graham. Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth. New York University Press. 1997

Knowles, George. “Doreen Valiente”

Raeburn, Jane, ed. The Pagan’s Muse: Words of Ritual, Invocation, and Inspiration. Citadel Press. 2003

Serith, Ceisiwr. “The Sources of the Charge of the Goddess”. 2003.

Smart, Roderick Ninian. The Religious Experience of Mankind, “Religion and Human Experience”. Prentice-Hall. 1976.

Soccio, Helon. Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy. 4th Edition. Thomson Learning. 2001.

Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. 10th anniversary Edition. Harper San Francisco. 1989.


[i] Gardner is understood to be the founder of Wicca after his publication of Witchcraft Today in 1954, though few Wiccans these days are strict followers of his teachings.

[ii] It is difficult to cite “The Charge of the Goddess” as it has been reprinted and changed so many times and there is no authoritative edition. To further complicate matters, the line breaks change, varying from paragraphs to blocks to couplets, making it impossible to count lines. The edition I’m quoting is extrapolated from the Esbat ritual by Blacksun, a less archaic rendition from Farrar’s The Witches Bible, pgs 42-44, who get their authority directly from Valiente. It is in the bibliography for your convenience.

[iii] As is one “authoritative” version by the Farrars.

[iv] Especially Starhawk, a noted writer. Her most recognized and celebrated work is The Spiral Dance.

[v] This is a ritual which is held at during a Full Moon, when the power of the Goddess is considered to be at its peak.

[vi] But it’s fascinating to note that Parmenides believed he was getting his information directly from a Goddess, not from his own use of logic.

[vii] This is also his argument against relativity.

[viii] I must admit that, as a Wiccan, my understanding of Christianity is generalized rather than specialized, and I haven’t yet done the kind of research to support more than what, I believe, is a mainstream knowledge of Christian doctrine, having not grown up Christian myself.

[ix] Perhaps a better metaphor would be a spiral, which repeats itself but has some progression. The problem we run into is finding out where it is progressing to and what is repeated or lost each time.

[x] There are few central ideas, if any, that all Pagans believe. Part of it has to do with the inherent individuality of the religion, but also due to the different histories of the various groups. It is understood that no one can tell you if you are or aren’t Pagan. Therefore, when one calls themselves a Pagan, what they believe is automatically denoted Pagan, even if it doesn’t agree with the majority. One joke in the movement is that if you put 4 Pagans in a room, you’ll end up with 5 differing opinions on any given topic.

[xi] The Cauldron of Cerridwen, a Welsh Goddess, grants wisdom and rebirth to those who seek it. The Welsh believed that the souls of the dead go into the cauldron until they are ready to be reborn.

[xii] In theory, at least. The math says it is so.

[xiii] Sometimes spelled with a ‘k’ as in ‘magick’. This is to differentiate between stage illusion and magick as practiced by Witches. This change began in the early 1900’s when Aliester Crowley the occultist began using it this way. His writings were extremely influential in the Pagan community, and I use his spelling for the same reason he does. Bonewits, an American scholar, does not differentiate, and I’ve retained his spelling in his quotations.

[xiv] Wicca has roots in the works of Aliester Crowley, a famous Edwardian occultist, Freemasonry and Alchemy. Unfortunately, the history of Wicca goes beyond the scope of this paper.

[xv] Bonewits and others have pointed out that it was Sir James Frazer in 1890 who really isolated these laws, but his writings were too unscientific to be accepted by anthropologists (5).

Cherry Hill Seminary

January 10, 2010 3 comments

School is one of my biggest passions. I love it! Maybe it is because I’m dedicated to Athena, but I’ve been in school almost continuously since I was five. Education is important to me, but it also took me awhile to figure out what I was put on this earth for. I’m big on training and professionalism, which doesn’t bode well in Paganism, honestly. I dreamed of working in academia as someone who studied Paganism as a legitimate spiritual community and a source of knowledge. I wanted to professionalize our clergy so the community would have some real resources at their disposal, and could keep up with other religions. In particular, I wanted to see Pagan Chaplains in the military.

This all started about five years ago, when I began my graduate program in teaching. I was already dissatisfied with the program and wanted to do something else in my life besides be a glorified babysitter and secretary. I looked to being a military chaplain, which requires, typically, a Masters in Divinity, ordination, and “ecclesiastical approval” from a church body. Already there were a lot of challenges to that laundry list of requirements, the hardest being the MDiv degree.

Imagine spending 70-90 semester hours in a religion that is not yours! I spent 3 credits in a fundamentalist Christian MDiv program before I figured out I wasn’t going to fit in, be comfortable, or graduate with a good GPA. I desperately wanted one of our own.

The seminary I work with, Woolston-Steen, doesn’t have an interest in getting accredited by the people the military would require (which seems fair, it’s their school!). But it means that their advanced degrees don’t mean anything outside of the religious community. Now that would be fine if we had more infrastructure like Pagan hospitals and churches where you could be sure to recoup your education investment and have a career. But we don’t. We live in the mainstream culture.

Recently, Cherry Hill Seminary, an online theological school for Pagans run out of South Carolina has decided to live in the mainstream culture. They are seeking accreditation through the Association of Theological Schools, which would mean that a degree from there would be considered legitimate in “the real world”. Accreditation is a long process, and should take 2-3 years if they keep at it, and it seems like they are well underway. And if the ATS doesn’t like the concessions they’ve made, then they’ll have to face M. Macha Nightmare! Good luck to them! She’s fierce! And she’s the head of the board of directors.

Accreditation by the ATS means

  • You can get a job in an academic institute of higher learning
  • You can work as a hospital chaplain
  • You can work as a military chaplain
  • …or a prison chaplain
  • You can put it on a professional resume or CV
  • You can start your own church (well, you could have done that before, but this makes it easier to get grants and stuff like that)
  • Who knows! Only the future graduates can show us what it means. I plan on opening a counseling practice catered to Pagans and doing academic research and book writing. A professional Pagan degree would help with all of that.

A few short years ago, the idea of a professional pagan ministry was unthinkable. Our elders have been working hard to serve the community, but often unnoticed beyond those that are close to them. As practitioners, we don’t always have people to turn to in times of crisis, and even those we turn to may not have the training to really help us. Yada yada, I’ve talked about this before.  But this is the exact goal of Cherry Hill–not to train more Witches (though there are some very good and very interesting schools out there) but to professionalize those who want to dedicate more of themselves to the service of others.

The faculty they have teaching are typically professionals with advanced MA or Doctorate degrees in their fields. They have spent their careers balancing the needs of Pagans with the demands of their professions. Judy Harrow is a professional counselor (and I absolutely admire her career), Brenden Meyers is a Ph.D and the author of A Pagan Testament (one of my new favorite books for research), and Michael York who is a professor of religion (you may remember his book). They have teachers who are Druids, Dianics, Solitary Practitioners, and Pagans from all walks of life. They have professors with backgrounds as diverse as law, education, pastoral counseling, comparative religion…just the stuff we need for a first generation of professional pagan clergy.

M. Macha Nightmare at the Conference for Current Pagan Studies.

Last year, at the Conference of Current Pagan Studies, I had the pleasure of reading two of my papers (which I don’t think I’ve posted here yet!). The best part of the conference was meeting Nightmare and her students from Cherry Hill. Two or three had papers to present, and I was incredibly pleased at the quality of the scholarship. It was a diverse group of topics and very well researched. (You can read my summary of the conference here and here). Now, with the addition of promised accreditation, and a track record of actually doing what they say they are going to do, I think I’ll put some of my money where my mouth is, and get that MDiv that I wanted all those years ago. The sky is the limit!

Conference on Current Pagan Studies 2009 (2)

January 10, 2010 1 comment

8 Feb 2009

Robert Elm “The Emerald tablet, an Exploration of its Meaning and its Place in Modern Paganism”

Emerald tablet is important to pagans. It basically has “as above, so below” Alchemal text. Obscure origin, but probably greek. Short hermetic neo-platonic Pythagorean document. Written in Syrian, Arabic. Overlapping philosophical schools. Start with reason and devine truths and perameters. Against the idea of magic outside of theurgy. Hermetism is theological philosophical system because its from a very cosomopolitan ideas. Magickal view of the world. Men are made gods by their mysticism. But will of the gods is above the will of man. Nature is the will of truth. Ritualized technology (?). tablet shows importance of mind over matter. Combine the power of what is above with what is below. But don’t over-simplify. It only makes sense if you read the whold document. You can’t atempt (create change) from empty space. When a symbol becomes the thing itself, it focuses your will.

Look up the book “reconnecting with nature” by cowen. Applied eco psychology.


Alfred Surenyen “Music as a tool in magick and Spells”

Music functions as liturgy to us. Chants go from inside the practitioner and out to the divine. Meditation music is used to go inward and to the higher self. Instrumental and drumming is chanting without text; it is the vibration of the musical instrument given to the gods. Use it in spellwork, live or recorded, enhances the flow of energy. Music can be used in all parts of ritual. Check Cunninghams guide for a list of instrument correspondences. Goddess is associated with earth and water. God with wind and fire. Some instruments are associated with certain deities. Isis with the sistern, horn for the horned god. Book “Planetary Magick” for vibration keyes. Make instruments too. Use it to your own personal power.


My paper was well received. I had to cram a little at the end. I don’t think I spoke as clearly as I could have. Macha pointed out that lots of Pagans do it differently, using process theology, and don’t use the charge that way. I pointed out that some people do, particularly wiccans, and that’s what I meant. I only know as much as I know.


Darren Iammarin “Process Magic: Explaining Occult Phenomena via Whiteheadian paradigm”

Whiteheads philosophy of organism can pass the ultimate test (explaining how occult phenomena work). Tries to prove that occult phenomena is real. He talks about actual entities. He uses the word enchantment instead of spellcasting. Trance shuts down the psychic fascilities, letting the sigil do its work. Whitehead talks about Invocation. An attempt to get the skills and ability of the gods within your own being. You get as many symbolic correspondences with that godform as possible. You want to narrow and intensify the data that you are sending out. The more it occurs, the more intense it is. You make a nexus (a public fact or phenomenon. That is, others will see it). What you call yourself is actually a process of nexus. There is no “one moment” that is you. You bring in all things to yourself. Everything is literally all related. Dependant co-origination. Like quantum moments. Too scientific for me.


Marie Cartier “Lesbian Wraiths Cosmological Themes in Filmic Representation”

Butch lesbians in film tend to portend their own death in the filmic world, like a wraith. The Femme is left alone in the world. The death is due to the femme because she doesn’t entirely inhabit the world of the butch. In their cosmology, they cannot be together. In Gen X world, there is a community, not a dyadic relationship. Better off to depict the lesbian as a living, vital being, and not a wraith. Suicide seems often the only option to free the femme, but leaves her alone and bereft. Sometimes the Femme leaves first Or they abandon everything and go on the open road and becomes the outlaw. Even there they are a di-ad. And we don’t know how they live. These models are really prolific in gay cinema. Thelma and Lousie leaves neigher bereft or alone, but live forever outside of the world. The di-ad is too vulnerable. Now, films show friends in relational circles. Characters can have political actions, families, and addresses. Lasting love is possible because community is possible. Problem with di-ads is that they are a magickal coupling and they can’t have a normal life. The problem is that those watching it have community and actual lives, which are not positioned in the films. Femmes rarely have a choice against actions on their own: they are a gateway to normalcy. Whereas butcch are a gateway to a magickal, dangerous, and underground worlds. Lesbian filmic representation has only begun to make accurate portrayals on film. Old films show working class lesbians, who hang out at bars. Even upperclass women had to go to bars to meet people. If the butch leaves the femme, then she can move on to upper classes.


Kristy Coleman “Re-Riting Woman: Luce Irigaray and Dianic Women”

Based on her book! :Dianic Women and the Feminine Divine” Luce is a French  philosopher, psychoanalysist, linguist etc of feminism. Deconstructs depictions of the “real” in a feminine way. “Speculum of the other woman” deconstructing philosophy. Dianic wicca is founded by Z Budapest, a religion by, for and about women and has only female concepts of the divine. Luce says “as longa s woman lacks a divine made in her image she cannot establish her subjectivity or achieve a goal of her own”. The feminine is repressed and conflates it with Dianic practice. Both have a shared agenda : recognizing patriarchy, realize how it represses the feminine divine, create and alternative feminine imagery. Dianics perform the imagery, more valuable than Luce’s imagining. Don’t join a system which deny woman’s particularity. A woman-identified perspective cannot be fully known because much of it is in the unconscious. Do not confuse with carl jung’s femininity. Le Feminin is the unknown potential of women in a non-masculine dominated world. Ideas affect the ways we see the world, how it is represented and how it is described. We need to k now the context of the problems. Men determine philosophy, which determines reality. Their language makes the male model as the norm, so women are “not men”. ?”He is” vs “she is not”. By judging as unlike, it makes it “less than”. The libito is described as masculine. Freud demonstrates that the phallis is the center. He cannot break free of it even if he observes another. For him the “little girl” is a “little man”. Even if we cannot show the gender of God, there is enormous resistance to feminine language. “in the Christian tradition god is a relatively genderless male deity”

Goddess and feminine images signify a potential woman-identified perspective. It was replaced by the male symbolic. Women need a system in which women can represent themselves. It must be practiced, not just theorized. Seasonal rituals dipict famale based imagery. Blood mysteries are important. Ritual is very effective in changing cultural imagination. Women need to express themselves without patriarchal hinderance.

The goal of dianic wicca is not to exist any more. We don’t need it if patriarchy goes away.


Windy Griffin “What Would Janus Do”

The way we develop knowledge and how the world changes…they don’t always match. She’s a Dianic and a scholar, so she doesn’t know much about Janus, but he has double vision of the past and futurel. Conferfences highlight the work being done by graduate students and shaped the direction of Pagan Studies. Selena Fox started the Pagan scholars network. They used to meet before other conferences. They had to prove to the AAR that there was enough material to warrant another group. As a formal area of study, it has matured beyond “new religious movements” status. She did a survey of the research on Paganism, Feminism, etc. There has been a refusal to reduce ambiguities and to embrace the plurality of study. We need to support Pagan studies by purchasing books, quoting each others, and getting them for university libraries. Observation of change in media: is it accurate?

Question: since we are making a new field of study, do we have the opportunity to redefine who an expert is? They check your academic rigor. They expect certain methodology, so it is handy to be academic, but we don’t have to disclude scholars who are not academic.

Check out the for the call for papers.


Jeffrey Fisher “The Tao of Just About Everything: How Natural Laws Governing Magic Influence Our lives—Moment to Moment Chemical Reactions in the Body”

Look at the emotional significance of the musical scale to I-Ching hexagrams. One scholar shows that hexagrams relate to amino acids. The vibration of the music gives energy. That’s why we should pay attention to what music has to offer. Law of Octives: a low note’s octives is twice as slow as the octive above it. Like “As Above, So Below”, a sameness but a differentness, like how sex can become love. Law of Harmonics: Everything vibrates as a whole and as a half. When you play a C, you also hear a G. It vibrates in half. The same note that sounds different has to do with the overtone: two instruments playing the same note sound different due to the overtone. Law of Resonance: Everything vibrates, even beyond the octives.


Misha Ma’Heo “Political Emergence of the Pagan Commnity: Credibility, Relevanca and Rights” “Animating Democracy: The Status of Pagans in Politics” (she painted the picture Obama got)

Lately had two folks in the democratic party, and then others, very high up folks came out of the broom closet! For purposes of politics, “pagan” also includes Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and Hindus (the fastest growing influence worldwide!). We don’t’ consider them in pagan studies because they have strong movements on their own. But politically, we have found them to be a strong ally. The Interfaith Alliance in the Democratic party has only recently included Pagans. If we aren’t on the board, we won’t have a voice in big Obamas politics. Those who have the money make the rules, so we allied with Sikhs and Hindus to get on the board. With Candidates for Obama that it was the first time that a political group had links to pagan info. There was some flack, folks were afraid that the press would get it. One of Obamas top press advisors is Dianic. Republican party has more Asatru (as a mask for racism). The Green Party has long had a tradition of including pagans. There are a lot of opportunities online for political participation. Joined the Lady Liberty League to get the Pentacle on Headstones. They are working to get paid Chaplains in the military and prisons. Democratic pagans did a ritual at the Mercury Café and included it the Democratic daily itinerary. Ha! One on the Denver Capital Building, 1000 people showed up (but maybe because Hilary Clinton was doing something else at the same time! She learned something!) at the Democratic convention, we lobbied with the Hindu and Sikh community. They pressured and changed the benediction over the few days. Finally, we were asked to lead the closing prayers!! We were finally included and taking our party back. We need to be more than just one-issue folk, more than just spiritual equality, but the environment, hospital care, etc. We can join our other Pagan allies. At the inaguration, they played “simple gifts” but it was really “Lord of the Dance!” Go to youtube and look up animating democracy to see the rituals.


Helen hye-Sook Hwang “Historicizing the Voices of seeking Mago, the Great Goddess”

Music is the ultimate creativity: everything comes from music. We need an inclusive ideology, to include SE Asian religions. This is an area that is unknown to the West. She’s claiming pre-patriarchal tradition. She’s personalized her research for us. Mago is remembered and forgotten by SE Asians: too close to recognize, but unfamiliar. There’s a long tradition of Mago nostalgia. Mago is the progenerist, the original female. Mountains and rocks are the abode of Mago—the most enduring substances. The Giant Woman who creates natural and human-made landscapes (like villiages, but also rivers and mountains). Earth is home. We are not lost: the cosmos is home for everything. Academics call it animisnm, Shamanism, or geomancy. Mago is home knowledge. Daoists call it a cult of Mago. When she is apart from her male partner, she is ancient and primordial. She did not reveal herself during Paleolithic times, but she existed then and our connection to her is through that. Mago is One, both goddess and human at once. The sovereign and divine at once. To talk about her as just a goddess is to miss the point. She’ s in the mythological and historical. It’s a  pre-patriarchal tradition that has gone on through it. From Korea in China. She exists in daoist pantheon as an imoto (?) she is the originator of immortality. Located at Mt. Mago in China. She is favored by the intellectual (brought to them by the middleclass painters!) and the populace It has traditionally been studied in fragments, so she’s the first one to bring it all together, but we aren’t sure if it is influencing the tradition or worship of Mago. Korean women are slow to pickup the issue. There are a lot of parallels of Mago and myths of Amaterasu. She is known as “Grandmother” and Goddess, but she is sometimes killed, ridiculed etc, even if she is not exactly reveared.

Question: how can we recognize Mago in art? Depicted as a Hermit. There is a large body of literature that has been repeated through folk song and art, so folks know her. She sometimes has a peach (very daoist) or a basket. The literature is sort of taken advantage of in its own native language, it’s so prevelant that it becomes invisible.