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.
I am often asked if I identify myself as a Witch, and I always say that I do. I’ve always wanted to have a shirt that said “This is what a Witch looks like” and I have a great idea for a children’s story on that very subject. Recently, a colleague of mine started to deconstruct the identity with me, which left me confounded and puzzled by my self-chosen label of Witch.
A Witch, he said, is a label given to somebody else–a way of identifying those on the fringe of the community. Witches are magic users who defy the church’s (read: Medieval Catholic) definition of reality, in favor of a more natural view of the world which may or may not include the Old Gods. Witches are said to be adept in herbal magic, but can harm as easily as they can heal, and be midwives, usurping the role of the church/science sanctioned doctors.
The church had created a doctrinal paradigm, and taught its followers to see the world in a certain way. It utilized the creation story from Genesis, and incorporated a whole host of angels and saints from local understanding of them, but Christianized it all. You had Christian monks going into local areas and building churches on pagan worship sites and Christianizing the Gods there. A quick way of discovering a pagan site is to look for churches to St. Michael, the archangel said to have brought Christianity to the pagans (I saw that on Rick Steves, so it must be true!). Christianity of medieval times was hierarchical, with everything existing on a vertical continuum with God at the top, and Satan on the bottom. Everything good was near the top, and bad near the bottom. The Earth was seen as a sinful place, where people’s basest instincts went wild, so any uncultivated place was seen as dangerous.
Witches had a place in that continuum as someplace between normal Christian society and those wild fringes, but were closer to the Devil than church officials would have liked. Anyone who spent time in those woods, moors or swamps were venturing into the uncontrolled and the unknown–a place without God. So Witches were understood, and had a place, within that paradigm. They were people worthy of saving if they weren’t too dangerous for the community. Anyone deemed too dangerous had to, for the sake of their soul, be sent to God for judgment and removed from a goodly ordered society.
So who the hell would want to identify with those people?
Old-school feminists see the European Witch Craze as being a Woman’s Holocaust. They aren’t wrong, but they aren’t all correct either. The death toll, record-keeping, and political climate varied drastically by region: where some areas killed exclusively women, others had more of a balance, and still other countries targeted more men–or at least, that is what their records show. It is hard to say how many Jim Crow-style vendettas were carried out during that time under the protection (even sanction) of the church.
At any rate, lots and lots of women were definitely killed, and some feminists attached to the word Witch to reclaim it. They re-imagined the medieval Witch under a modern paradigm. A Witch was powerful, self-supportive, a powerful judge of people and a compassionate healer–an early psychologist. People came to her for magic spells to control their own lives when the church offered no answer or solution to their desires. Witches knew the wild ways of the woods and the meaning of each plant in the garden. She held old customs for the village like a matriarch of the family, just out of reach of the church.
Did medieval women accused of being Witches feel this kind of feminist power? Very unlikely. People were generally poorly (if at all) educated beyond the church back then, and it is hard to tell where a woman might have gotten this knowledge of these big ideas.
Still, it is that feminist re-imagining that I identify with. The trappings of the medieval witch are absurd and funny to me, and by calling myself a Witch, I point that out to them. In my own community, we ironically both embrace the medieval identity and push it away. How many times have we said “we don’t ride on brooms”? Yet I keep at least two besom in the house, and have ridden the broom in ritual and in meditation. I have a pointy hat because it is fabulous, and striped socks to match the ribbons on it. I even have a black cat, but that was an accident.
If you came to my house, you would know I was a Witch because I announce it in my decoration, in the magic that protects my property, and in the cutesy Halloween signs I enjoy year-round. What must the neighbors think!
For me, being a Witch can be separate from being Wiccan. Witchcraft is the stuff I do in my practical life to align it with my magical intent. Wicca is the ritual and relationship with Spirit that I work with to make that happen. A Witch might never do a ritual of worship, or never contact the Gods for anything, but for a Wiccan it is almost essential.
My identity as a Witch is political. My identity as a Wiccan is spiritual. A Witch’s job is to challenge the status quo, whether it is the church, societal mores, patriarchy, or the government. As a woman, I challenge men who are afraid of strong women. I challenge women to make their own boundaries and not be stopped by limitations. I work on my Witchcraft to build my self-esteem, my own power as a human being. My worldview comes, not from a church dogma, but from the world around me, as I see it. I am empowered to see the world directly, not through another’s filter.
I think men can be Witches as much as men can be feminists. Feminism is really about equality of choice and opportunity for all genders. But Witches do it through magic and personal power. I think that is something a man can get behind and find empowering.
I don’t really know why Gerald Gardner chose to call what he and his friends were doing “Witchcraft” and later “Wicca”. Perhaps he too enjoyed the trappings of the medieval Witch but wanted to see it evolve. He could have easily made up another word to describe what he was doing. I suspect that he wanted to hearken back to that time and show how old what he was doing might have been. And indeed, Wicca as he conceived of it looked much more like a Witches Sabbat out of The Hammer Against Witches. Perhaps it is we who have changed the definition of the word as we continue to weave Witchcraft into our modern lives.
What does Witch mean to you?
I’m currently at the Wiccan church in which I am a 1st degree. The Archpriest needs help with office work, and working on the dining hall, a large-scale construction our church attendees have needed for years. So with a happy heart and a cooler full of food, my sweetheart and I made the two-hour journey to church with no promise of ritual, simply for the sake of helping out (so that’s why the post has no pictures or links–spotty internet will do that! I’ll likely fix it when I get home).
I was thinking about a recent post I made about our clergy needing money, and I think I failed to mention that they also need help. Just regular help around the office, in the kitchen, answering mail, mowing the lawn. What our Pagan groups are in desperate need of is good volunteers.
Their are many advantages to volunteering:
- Promote an organization or community you love. The great part is that the organization of community will love you back. There is nothing so satisfying as looking around some place you care about and be able to say “I did that. I made this place better.”
- Volunteering is a tangible gift you can give that doesn’t involve money. So if you are feeling broke, you can give in a different way.
- Volunteering allows you to not only do what you excel at, but to try your hand at things you would like to improve. For example, I excel at organizing information and answering questions, but suck at yardwork. I think I suck because I haven’t done much of it living in apartments and rentals the last few years. Yet I can volunteer to do yardwork, and know that someone is going to appreciate my effort, and won’t yell at me for taking all day.
- It can be a fun, social activity. You want to be on the ‘in-crowd’? Spend time making friends at work parties and doing simple chores.
- Volunteering is really really appreciated. Sure, it’s not out there for everyone to see, but someone will sincerely be grateful for your work. If nothing else, you’ve crossed something off their to-do list, or completed something they didn’t even know needed done. It is a humble gift. If nothing else, the Gods will see your good work.
- Studies show that it feels good to volunteer, and can bring a sense of community, happiness, and calmness. Studies even show that it feels good to see someone else volunteer. So just being around do-gooders can up our feel-good hormones. Really, volunteering is in your own best interest. Remember the rule of Three applies here too!
The best way to volunteer is to call up the folks in charge and recommend your skills to them. Call ahead, unless the rules are “just show up”. If you have an idea for a project, propose it. Consider if there are any materials or information that you need. Folks who are caretakers will have the big picture in mind, so if they can’t use your services, or don’t readily agree to your project, it is likely there is some barrier that you don’t know about, so please don’t take it personally. Ask them what they need doing, and consider if can do the job. If you do certain work professionally, suggest yourself to the Powers that Be at your local organization. Who knows, you might have a skill that the group desperately needs. I know on our church building, we desperately need plumbers, electritions, framers, clean-up and landscape crew. Most groups could certainly use the skills of a good web designer. What do you have to offer?
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.
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?