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
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!
I am honored to be loved by many men, and I have several whom I consider my father. My father who gave me genes is a grounded, down-to-earth working man, while the dad who raised me is well-educated and from a more conservative background. It’s not that we fight, but rather that we agree to disagree. Coming to terms with that has been one of the challenges of becoming an adult that I’ve actively worked on. He knows I’m Pagan, but I’m not sure he quite knows what that means and what it means to me. I wrote this poem from his perspective. Do you have parents like this?
You know how I feel about you
Controversial book reading
Child of mine.
I served time so you could
Burn the flag
Ok, so I didn’t fight in war
But I would have
Because it is my duty
As an American Citizen.
When did you lose your morals?
Trade your free-speech amendment
Before you hurt someone.
You are saving yourself until marriage.
So it must have been a virgin birth
Which produced a grand-baby
At my young age.
You will be home by 10
Or there will be strict punishment
Just like my father told me:
I can’t trust you
If you don’t follow
But you know how I feel about you:
Child of mine.
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.
As you know, our boundaries about relationships is different from other peoples. In honor of Beltain I wanted to talk about a specific one.
Very likely, if you are just beginning your magical practice, this won’t be a problem for you, but as your practice grows and your magical identity deepens, you may want to consider choosing a magical partner.
A magical partner is a person with whom you do magical work with. This work could be spellcraft (like a two person coven), service to the community (such as leading a group), doing a Great Work, or a mature teacher/student relationship. A magical partner is someone you work closely with as you grow in the Craft. In Wiccan communities, your partner is typically the opposite gender. It is an unusual relationship when looked at from outside the community.
A magical partnership is not inherently a romantic or sexual relationship, although it can take on the characteristics. A magical partnership is based upon the work you do together, but the nature of the work can be very intimate and emotional, with or without sexual activity. The relationship is very much like professional dance partners.
Some things to consider when choosing a magical partner:
- Magical practice: choose someone who has the same style that you do, or who magically thinks like you do, or is of the same tradition. Your styles need to mesh and come to some agreement about how you will go about your practice.
- Your romantic partner: what would your spouse or significant other think about this magical relationship? What are the boundaries? At what point does it become emotional cheating? Think about what energy and parts of yourself you would be keeping away from your partner. Come up with some rules to avoid jealousy–remember that in a serious relationship, your partner comes first. Obviously if your magical partner is your romantic partner, then this is not a problem.
- Focus and intent: what will be the nature of your work? Will you be working on a project? Leading and teaching the community? Worshiping a particular deity? Working on a particularly difficult psychological problem? Exploring other realms together? You and your partner should be on the same page.
- On the Outside: how does this relationship look to outsiders? Not that it matters, on one hand, but you had best be prepared for rumors if you aren’t willing to explain yourself. If you are leading a Beltain ritual and one of you invokes the Goddess and the other invokes the God and you spend half the ritual flirting and making out with each other, people are going to wonder if there is anything between you and what your significant other thinks about it. You may tell yourself that it is just ritual and, like actors on stage, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but for the observers, the energy is there and it looks very real.
- In the Pagan community: while those not in the know about your relationship may be whispering to each other, those in the know in the community may treat you like a couple. For example, they may invite you and your magical partner to a ritual or gathering, and neglect to extend the invitation to your significant other.
- A magical partnership is very serious: the Karma and energy accumulated in a magical partnership is amplified, just like in Circle. Personality differences, psychological scars and spiritual crisis are more likely to come to the surface quickly in this kind of relationship. Luckily, you have this partner to work through it with! You will experience a deep sense of loyalty, almost like family, that comes from being emotionally intimate with someone else. This relationship is a chance to experiment, and the work you do here is likely to influence how you are in other relationships. In order to experience the best of the other, you will have to give them your best. It is a serious commitment.
- This relationship has cycles: it begins with a lot of energy, experiences growing pains and conflict, and may eventually end or change form, just like any other relationship. It may not go in the direction you expect, but you will certainly grow and learn from it. Be prepared to commit to it as long as it is productive, and be ready to release it when it is time to move on.
Having a magical partner is a beautiful and intimate way to experience Divinity and do the work of the Gods. But it is a very mature relationship, both personally and magically, and must be thought through just like any other magical endeavor. Rather than searching one out, I think you’ll find that you’ll fall into one naturally as you grow in the community and in your Craft. You will end up working with people on rituals and may find a powerful energetic chemistry between you. You will likely end up partnering with someone you already know–partnering with a stranger is unwise when you consider the possible ramifications.